The Synoptic Problem
& John 8:1-11
Part V: John & the Synoptics

from: thread (2008)

Page Index

Last Updated: Jan 5, 2008

Section 1: - Introduction to John & the Synoptic Problem

Section 2: - Timeline with John
    Constructing a Timeline - With Mark and Luke
    John and Mark - Relative Order
    John and Luke - Some Key Questions


Why John needs Consideration for the Synoptic Problem

One of the reasons that the Synoptic Problem has not been satisfactorily or convincingly solved in the past, has been failure to recognise various sources that the Synoptists (Mark, Luke, Matthew) have used in composing their works.

The correct placement of John in the chronological scheme of the Gospels and identifying the possible dependancies of other Gospels upon John is crucial to properly understanding the way some Gospels such as Luke and Matthew were created.

This is why we need to properly assess John's place in the chronology of the Gospels.

In the past, John's Gospel has been given 'last place' in conjectural timelines, because 19th century German critics had tried to create a schema of religious development based upon a kind of "theological evolution".

Critics believed that John's Gospel showed the most "theological development", and so must have been created last, after a time of reflection and elaboration of the meaning and message of Jesus' advent.

This in fact appears to be an impossible schema for several glaring reasons:

(1) The earliest writings, such as Paul's core letters, have arguably the most advanced theological interpretation of Jesus to be found anywhere.

a) Paul obviously understands Jesus' death as both sacrificial and as a vehicle for the removal of the barrier of sin between mankind and God. Similarly, other early letter writers such as Peter (1st Peter).

b) Paul's christology appears to be as high as John's, and perhaps even more developed as Paul works out various themes in relation to Jesus Christ and the Old Testament.

(2) The Earliest Writings are dependant upon other earlier sources.

a) Paul and other early letter writers show obvious signs of dependance upon even earlier traditions and other written works, some of which are uncannily Johannine in flavour.

b) The Synoptic Gospels obviously used sources, and appear to have used Johannine sources also. They contain Johannine elements which are foreign to their own authors (i.e., Luke, Matthew).

(3) The Earliest Writings contain Johannine ideas and elements, which appear to be 'sourced'.

This suggests that the so-called Johannine community was formed before Paul and others wrote, and also that John's writings may have been one of many available sources from which Paul and others have actually drawn some of their ideas and teachings.

(4) Certain Features of the Synoptic Gospels cannot be convincingly explained, unless we appeal to the Johannine Writings or the Johannine Community as the source.

All these factors when properly taken into account, suggest that John's material (or John's sources) are one of the earlier layers of Gospel material from which the Synoptists have drawn.

This is why it is important to place John and/or his material in an appropriate place in the Gospel timeline.

Timeline with John

Constructing a Timeline

The most reliable and widely accepted result of 200 years of Synoptic study, is the relative chronological order of composition between Mark and Luke:

Mark ----------------> Luke

We need then to place John in one of three possible positions:

...(John?) ---> Mark ---> (John?) ---> Luke ---> (John?)...

We can establish the plausibility of the first position from a comparison of Mark and John.

If the first postion is not viable, then the next question of choosing between spot 2 and spot 3 will be decided by a careful comparison of John and Luke.

Once John's relative position in this schema is reasonably established, we can then turn to the question of Matthew's position in the chronological order of composition, arguably the most complex and difficult task.

John and Mark

The Relative Chronology

The first question then, is the relative order of composition of John and Mark.

This can only be adequately determined by internal evidence from each Gospel.

Mark: Background and Scenario

Mark's Gospel is first of all an introduction to the advent of Jesus, His ministry, His teaching (briefly), His arrest, trial, crucifixion (and resurrection appearances: cf James Snapp's work on the Ending of Mark).

But Mark is aimed at audiences which are mostly gentile (non-Jewish), unfamiliar with Jewish language and customs, and unfamiliar with the Torah and Prophets.

Mark gives vivid eyewitness accounts of Jesus' ministry and confrontation with authorities, and takes time to explain Jewish customs and Hebrew/Aramaic expressions.

He does not appeal to other Gospels, and does not presuppose the reader's knowledge of or familiarity with any other Gospel.

All of this suggests Mark is working in a relative 'vacuum', in which there are no other Gospels available to his readers, and that he is writing just around the time that Gentiles (non-Jews) were being proselytized and were joining the ranks of the first Jewish Christians in significant numbers.

Mark is certainly one of the first Gospels to be written, in a time of great change, the very birth of the Christian movement.

John: Background & Occasion

John on the other hand, seems to presuppose at least one other Gospel, or at least an organized group of Christian believers, to whom he writes. His purpose is to testify and assist people in believing and embracing Christianity (cf. John 20:31).

In many cases, John makes reference to obvious Jewish and also Christian (Messianic) traditions, but without explaining them at all (e.g., The Prophet spoken of by Moses John 7:40f, the Birth of the Messiah in Bethlehem 7:42, 52).

Thus John expects his audience to be both more sophisticated and educated concerning religious, historical and political events than Mark does.

John also narrows his focus on Jesus' ministry in Southern Judaea (and His reception by the Judaean religious authorities).

He also deals with the question of the status of the Diaspora (the ten "lost" tribes of Israel spread among the nations) and makes their reception a dramatic 'sign' (cf. John 12:20-29).

John repeatedly uses Gospel events found for instance in Mark. [i.e., The Temple Cleansing (Mark 11:15-19) The Feeding of the 5000 (Mark 6:30-44) The Annointing at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9) The Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11)]

But in John they clearly appear to be secondary (i.e., originally non-Johannine) stories adapted by John and expanded with copious material (such as discourses) not found in any other Gospel.

This strongly suggests John wrote AFTER Mark at least, and wanted to expound and suppliment key events in Mark's Gospel.

John also has less instances of Aramaic words and terms, and when he does relate them does not explain them beyond a quick definition or translation of the word (e.g., Siloam , Golgotha, Gabbatha).

This suggests he is not really concerned with Gentile unfamiliarity of Hebrew terms as such, but may be using them in the same way as modern Freemasons use them, as 'passwords' or 'tokens' identifying someone who has read John's Gospel.

On the other hand, John has been shown to have had knowledge of or access to pre-70 A.D. Jerusalem, such as the Pool of Five Porches, now found by archaelogists. This suggests John was or had access to early eyewitnesses who must have lived in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus.

John also appears to have written at a time when the followers of John the Baptist were still active, and even in some cases mistakenly competing with the Christian movement. (cf. John Baptist's Testimony in John 1:19-34, and John 3:22-36).

John also seems to be writing right at the time when Jewish authorities had begun persecuting Jewish Christians, and casting them out of the synagogues (excommunicating them; cf. John 9 etc.).

Finally, John appears to be a semi-secret document, shown to other (Jewish) Christians and converts perhaps only when they were known to be trustworthy, and this document also seems to have been used in rituals like confession and baptism, suggesting an underground status of the Johannine community, at least in Palestine.

All these things taken together suggest that John wrote after, but not very much after Mark did. John seems to belong to one of the very first layers of Gospel, the earliest primitive Gospel Era.

The allegations of "developed Christology' and 'post Temple' milleu by critics do little that can be called helpful in establishing the relative order of composition of the Gospels.

But these many other internal evidences suggest strongly that John was composed after, but not long after, Mark's Gospel.

This leaves us with a sharper timeline (eliminating one slot):

Mark ---> (John?) ---> Luke ---> (John?)

The final question will be resolved by a comparison of John with Luke.

John and Luke

Strong Overlaps

As we mentioned in passing in one of our commentaries on John 8:1-11:

Best on John 8:1-11 <--- Click Here.

"The Synoptic Problem becomes significant here:

Did John (or an interpolator) have access to Luke, or did Luke have access to John in writing Luke/Acts?

John appears to take great pains to maintain independance from the Synoptic Gospels, in regard to both style and content. He appears only to make direct reference to Mark, and makes no effort to use or even confirm the 'Q' material from Luke and Matthew.

Yet a handful of peculiar clauses and expressions are shared between John and Luke: Why would John insert these phrases into his own Gospel in such a random manner, with no apparent purpose?

If Luke made Use of John...

But what if Luke was composed after John, and had access to it, or at least to traditions originating in the Johannine community? In fact, a remarkable number of passages in Luke appear to depend upon the Johannine tradition, such as Luke 9:55-56 (cf. Jn 3:16-17), Luke 10:1-24, especially 10:2-3 (cf. Jn 4:35-36), and 10:21-22 (cf. Jn 5:25-27, 8:42-43, 10:27-30 etc.), Luke 11:29-36 (cf. Jn 2:18 etc.), and Luke 12:14 (cf. Jn 8:15-16).

The parallels between Luke 11:20 (cf. Jn 8:6,8!), and especially Luke 21:37-38/Acts 5:21 (cf. Jn 7:53-8:2) become now become more explicable. Luke takes the Johannine traditions and works them into his compilation of previous written and oral tradition, modifying them extensively just as he has done with Mark. Luke openly confesses as much, in the first 4 verses (Luke 1:1-4).

Most importantly, now the amazing parallel in Luke 21:37-38 takes on a new meaning: Besides providing the authoritative background for Luke's following material, Luke carefully preserves together material from both sides of the apparent 'seam' between John 8:1 and 8:2. Could Luke have done this to prevent or combat the physical cutting apart of this seam and removal of John 8:2-11?

If so, Luke would become the earliest known witness to the authenticity of the Pericope de Adultera!"

- Nazaroo, Web Article, The Best on John 8:1-11

We don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but obviously it is to these alleged 'Johannine' passages in Luke that we must now turn:

The two key questions before us are:

"Did Luke know of and use John as a source?"

and if so,

"Did Luke's copy of John contain John 8:1-11?"

These are exciting questions which are not at all out of reach of our inquiry into the Synoptic Problem, and indeed, a convincing solution to many aspects of the Synoptic Problem may actually hinge on them.