The Synoptic Gospels: An Annotated Bibliography

By Scot McKnight and Matthew C. Williams
Grand Rapids : Baker (2000). 126 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
12.1 (Spring 2001) : 113-115

After a hiatus of nearly three years, the seventh in a proposed series of 14 bibliographies sponsored by the Institute of Biblical Research has been released, this one dealing with the Synoptic Gospels. The publishing schedule for this series has been somewhat sporadic with the first volume issued in 1992 and then five additional volumes issued between 1994-97. Because of the extended period between releases, this newest volume suffers from a rather embarrassing statement in the preface. The preface, by the series general editor Tremper Longman III, has not been changed from the first volume until the present volume, except to note Longman’s change from Westminster Theological Seminary to Westmont College. Though series prefaces normally remain static, this preface states, “One of the problems with published bibliographies in the past is that they are soon out of date. The development of computer-based publishing has changed this, however, and it is the plan of the Institute for Biblical Research and Baker Book House to publish updates of each volume about every five years” (7-8). To date, no such update has appeared despite the fact that three of the volumes are now five years in print, and the first volume has been out for eight years. Additionally, one has to wonder at the structure of the overall series, with four of the fourteen proposed volumes dealing specifically with the Gospels and three (Jesus, Luke-Acts and this volume) presenting a great deal of overlapping material.

This volume presents a surprisingly small number of entries (only 528) on works related to the Synoptic Gospels. They include articles in reference works and journals, specialized monographs and commentaries. In stating their purpose the authors comment, “We intend this bibliography to be useful to students and scholars alike, but if we had to choose between the two, we would chose the former. Consequently, we have included the items a student of the Synoptics might need to prepare a paper or to undertake some personal hunt—but we have eschewed trying to satisfy the fullness of studies needed for either doctoral studies or scholarly research” (9). The entries and annotations reflect the authors’ preferences for the various literary dependence views for the Synoptics, which would be appropriate if there were any attempt at balance or real commitment to the “usefulness” proposed in the preface. A few examples of the lack of balance will suffice. Only one of Eta Linnemann’s post-conversion works is listed (Is There a Synoptic Problem? Rethinking the Literary Dependence of the First Three Gospels, 44). That this work is listed is certainly an improvement over past IBR bibliographies, but the annotation clearly seeks to discredit her work in an ad hominem fashion as it states, “Formerly a disciple of Bultmann, Linnemann was converted to a Pentecostal type of faith and her entire theological and critical outlooks were reversed. She now advocates (against nearly all current scholarship) a view of Scripture holding that all three Synoptics arose independently and at roughly the same time” (ibid.). The volume does not list The Jesus Crisis: The Inroads of Historical Criticism in Evangelical Scholarship, edited by Robert L. Thomas and F. David Farnell (Kregel, 1998) in any of the relevant categories. Of the ten sub-categories under the main heading of “Methodological Issues,” none deal with harmonization of the Synoptics (in fact not a single Gospel harmony is listed in the bibliography). Of the 528 entries, only the work of Linnemann advocates a view of literary independence, despite the fact that this was the virtually universal view of the church and biblical scholars until the last 200 years.

That being said, this volume is somewhat helpful in detailing the current work (over 75% of the entries date within the last 15 years) in Synoptic studies and particularly in highlighting evangelical contributions to the various higher critical theories and literary-dependence views. The annotations are generally helpful and will give the student a basic grasp of the thrust of various works. Though small sections of commentaries are listed for each of the three Synoptics, one will have to look elsewhere for thorough coverage in this area.

For better or worse, bibliographies are the main source (and in many cases the sole source) of research for students and busy pastors. As such, bibliographies will shape the thinking of those who use them , because they are trusted to present a full-spectrum of materials on a given subject. Bibliographies are not “raw” research, but neither should they be thoroughly pre-digested menus where all unwanted and seemingly irrelevant items are missing. The IBR Bibliographies in general have tended to suffer from the latter, and The Synoptic Gospels in particular is characterized by listings that narrow the spectrum of studies that “students,” whom the authors have sought to help, to a pre-digested and pre-packaged meal which will neither fully nourish nor enlighten.