Discerning Synoptic Gospel Origins: An Inductive Approach

Robert L. Thomas | August 25, 2009

The claim of some NT scholars that verbal agreements in the Synoptic Gospels prove literary interdependence among them opens a challenge to investigate those Gospels thoroughly to check the claim’s validity. An inductive investigation of fifty-eight triple-tradition sections in the Burton and Goodspeed Harmony of the Gospels finds that an average of only 16% of the words in the sections are identical. Since a much higher percentage of identical words is necessary to demonstrate literary interdependence, the inductive study favors the position of literary independence. Several observations illustrate how the memories of Apostles and other eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life and ministry are sufficient to verify the independence explanation of Gospel origins. Another insight gained from an inductive study of triple-tradition sections comes from the agreements of two Gospels against a third. Agreements of two Synoptic Gospels against a third in all combinations furnishes additional evidence of the failure of literary interdependence to explain Gospel origins. If any two Gospels depended on a third, their agreement with each other against the alleged source Gospel is inexplicable. If, however, the three writers under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit worked independently of each other, the random way in which their Gospels coincide with and differ from each other is exactly what would be expected.

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