Book Review: The Synoptic Problem

9780801049507Recently I had the opportunity to read a new book published in 2016, The Synoptic Problem. The “Synoptic Problem” is a phrase used in NT studies to refer to the comparison of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and examine their relationship. This new book, edited by Stanley Porter and Bryan Dyer, gives an overview of four main views: the Two Source hypothesis, the Farrer hypothesis, the Two Gospel hypothesis, and the Orality and Memory hypothesis.

Craig A. Evans writes to present the two source hypothesis, which teaches that Mark was the first gospel written, and Matthew and Luke were literarily dependent upon Mark. This hypothesis also teaches that where Matthew and Luke share the same details that are not mentioned in Mark, they are dependent upon another source, referred to as “Q.”

Mark Goodacre writes to represent the Farrer hypothesis. This theory holds that Mark was the first gospel written, but rejects the existence of the Q source. Thus, Matthew was dependent upon Mark, and Luke was dependent upon both Mark and Matthew.

David Barrett Peabody is the defender of the Two Gospel hypothesis. This view teaches that Matthew was the first gospel written, with Luke writing second, and Mark following chronologically in third place. In this theory, Luke utilizes Matthew (and other sources), and Mark utilizes both Matthew and Luke, but forms a more abridged version of the storyline. As Peabody mentions in his chapter, one advantage he has over the aforementioned theories is that church history almost unanimously indicates that Matthew wrote his gospel first.

Rainer Riesner concludes the four views with the Orality and Memory hypothesis. Riesner’s view is that literary dependence ought to be minimized (though not completely done away with) in light of the cultural emphasis on remembering oral traditions. Riesner writes that Jesus’ teachings were likely memorized and repeated in story sets, and these memorized traditions were the basis for the gospel writings. Riesner’s theory also includes space for some written sources, but emphasizes the memory and orality of that culture.

Stanley Porter and Bryan Dyer do an excellent job editing this book. Although this subject is one of the more technical subjects that can be discussed, all authors do an excellent job of writing concisely and in an interesting manner. The book is very reasonable in its length, and it also provides brief responses by each author to their fellow contributors. Overall, this book sets a high standard for amiable disagreement and discussion between scholars.

My only major critique is that there is no representative of conservative scholarship in the volume. The Eyewitness/Tradition view, although mentioned by Riesner, does not receive serious consideration as it is assumed to not be a serious consideration of the relationship of the Synoptic Gospels, even though it uses much of the evidence from the Orality and Memory hypothesis, and it was the main viewpoint for 1700+ years.

This will definitely be a “go to” work in discussing the relationship of the Synoptics for years to come in many schools. I recommend it on its basis of conciseness and brevity alone. It is an excellent introduction to the main issues involved.

Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy. They are consistently coming out with valuable resources.

New Evidence for the Validity of the Text in Our Bibles

Two days ago, the New York Times published an article entitled, “Modern Technology Unlocks Secrets of a Damaged Biblical Scroll.” The sum of the story is as follows.

3841271286_d74a6f4652Archaeologists found a badly damaged ancient scroll in En-Gedi around the Dead Sea in the 1970s. Until recently have been unable to read it due to its fragile condition. However, there is now a computer technology (spearheaded by the University of Kentucky) which allows this scroll (and others like it) to be read. This particular scroll has now been analyzed and contains the first two chapters of Leviticus.

What is most amazing about the find, however, is that the experts who examined the scroll claim it is an exact match with the Masoretic text. The Mastoretic text refers to the Hebrew manuscripts which certain scribes, called the Masoretes, copied from the 6th to the 11th centuries. In other words, this En-Gedi scroll verifies the text we have from the Masoretic time period, but it is a much earlier witness. In fact, as the article reports, Ada Yardeni and Emanuel Tov believe the scroll can be dated to the first century.

Major Take Away(s) from This Article

First of all, in an amazing technological advancement we are now able to examine scrolls that we previously would not have been able to read. This will be of tremendous benefit to Old Testament studies and archaeology. I am excited to see if this technology can produce more benefit.

Second, since this scroll is likely dated to the first century, we now have evidence of God’s Word being preserved over 1,000 years. The foremost scholar of OT textual criticism, Emanuel Tov, is quoted in the article as stating, “This is the earliest evidence of the exact form of the medieval text.” In other words, against what many opponents of Christianity may believe, it is possible for the Bible to exist in its textual form without change for at least a thousand years. This scroll gives us evidence of that fact.

Third, on a devotional note, it is comforting to know that we have access to the same Hebrew text that was around during or shorty after the time of Jesus. The same words which Jesus would have memorized and relied upon for daily strength are the words we can memorize and be strengthened by.

This really is a great article by the New York Times and I encourage you to read it. Their main emphasis is the technology which makes this textual reading possible, but we can’t help but note the significance of this En-Gedi scroll for biblical studies.

Read more about this En-Gedi scroll:

New York Times Article


The Temple and the Tabernacle Review

9781493401567I don’t ever remember learning about the Temple or Tabernacle while growing up. That is not to say it never happened, but if I did, it obviously was not done in a compelling or memorable way. Now, I can honestly say studying the Temple and Tabernacle is definitely something that gives me great joy and excitement. Thus, when I had the opportunity to read The Temple and the Tabernacle, by J. Daniel Hays, I was really excited!

The book was published this year (2016) by Baker Books, and is quite impressive in its print quality. Normally I evaluate a book entirely on the basis of its content, but I have to say the quality of the print job (specifically the images within the book) is a step above the competition. This actually makes a big difference since Hays discusses details of the Temple and Tabernacle which are illustrated throughout the book in well-designed images.

As far as the layout of the book, Hays has eight chapters:

  1. The Temple and the Tabernacle: An Overview
  2. God’s Garden Temple
  3. The Ark and the Tabernacle
  4. Solomon’s Temple
  5. The Departure of God from the Temple
  6. The Second Temple
  7. The Temple of God in the New Testament
  8. Conclusions: What Does in All Mean for Us Today?

In each of these chapters Hays pays close attention to detail in the biblical text and constructs convincing arguments about the importance of God’s presence for humanity in the Tabernacle and Temple. Probably the most significant part of the book for me was his discussion of Solomon’s temple. Hays goes through the details to demonstrate that Solomon’s construction of the Temple appears to be without due regard for God. When comparing the Tabernacle construction with Solomon’s Temple, there are significant differences in the details and descriptions. Many of these differences do have the appearance of Solomon’s “touch” rather than divine mandate. This was a really interesting chapter and I will have to read it again to think through the arguments in greater detail. In any case, t is an excellent presentation of detail. Finally, Hays’ discussion of the NT passages which describe the Church as the temple of God is an excellent summation of the biblical theological theme of God’s presence with His people.

The major disagreement that I have with Hays is his treatment of Ezekiel 40-48 where he argues against a literal temple. Despite agreeing with Hays and his overall theological treatment of the Temple theme, I think there is no reason to disallow Ezekiel 40-48 to be literal.

This is an excellent resource which discusses the details of the Tabernacle and Temple, but not in a dry fashion. It is done in a lively manner with good pictures and detailed annotations which will help anyone better understand the significance of the Temple and Tabernacle to the biblical story line.

Thanks to Baker Publishing for a review copy. This did not influence my review.

Be Careful What You Worship

One of the most striking things in Psalm 115 are the following verses (4-8):

4 Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man’s hands.
5 They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
They have eyes, but they cannot see;
6 They have ears, but they cannot hear;
They have noses, but they cannot smell;
7 They have hands, but they cannot feel;
They have feet, but they cannot walk;
They cannot make a sound with their throat.
8 Those who make them will become like them,
Everyone who trusts in them.

Psalm 115 depicts the false idols who have mouths, eyes, ears, noses, and hands; yet, they cannot speak, see, hear, smell, or feel. These idols are contrasted with the active and living God who is able to protect Israel (v. 9), the God who made heaven and earth (v. 15), and who belongs in the highest of heavens (v. 16).

Continue reading →

What Was the Population of Earth Before the Flood?

Depending on who you ask, the global population is currently anywhere between 7.1 to 7.4 billion people. That is a lot of people. However, in the spirit of investigation I want to consider whether during the time before the Flood there were more people living on the earth.


To begin our investigation, we will use the genealogy of Genesis 5 to calculate how much time passed from creation until the flood. In doing so we arrive at 1,656 years (there may also be room in the genealogies for additional years).

How many people could have been born in 1,656 years? If we simply use the population growth percentage of today (1.13% growth rate in 2016), that would give us a population of around 241 million at the time of Noah. However, given the fact that the average age was much higher, and environmental conditions were much more stable and conducive to life, it seems that a higher rate of population growth would be expected. If we increase the rate even by the tiniest amount (from 1.13% to 1.30%) we would arrive at a population of around 3.9 billion. However, it is much more likely that the population increase would have been far greater than this.

Consider, for example, Israel’s population increase while in the land of Egypt. Israel came into Egypt as 70 persons (Gen 46:27), and yet when they leave Egypt 400 years later, their numbers conservatively estimate around 2 million. This is at least a 2.5650% growth rate per year. If we use this same growth rate for the pre-flood world, the numbers would be astronomical.

Even if we use a much smaller growth rate than the previous example for the pre-flood world (e.g., 1.5% per year) that would still get us to 122 billion people at the time of the flood. I have a hard time believing that there were that many people on the planet, but I also realize that the world was made to be a home for many people. Thus, it is quite possible there were many more people on the planet than even our “large” population today.

Concluding Thoughts  

  • Given the longer lifespans of pre-flood life (e.g., Adam 930 yrs, Jared 962 yrs, etc.), as well as the optimal living conditions, we should expect a faster population growth rate than we currently have today.
  • Taking into account that man was inherently bent on evil (as he is today) it is beyond doubt that there was much violence, war, and murder which impacted or slowed population growth. Thus, the actual number may be well below 122 billion.
  • However, given the above information, it is reasonable that the pre-flood world had a population that may have exceeded the current day. Perhaps even greatly so.