An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Source Criticism

Critical study of the sources of the NT gospels. Given the similarity yet individuality of the synoptic gospels, nineteenth-century scholars sought to find a way to determine the gospels' historical connection to each other. They sought to determine the sources that were used by the authors of the gospels to produce the three distinct but similar stories of Jesus. Because we have no specific historical information about the author, time, or place of composition, the criticism is based on the texts of the gospels themselves. Therefore the solutions about the sources are suggested possibilities. There are two major accepted solutions: 1) Two Source Theory. Because much of Mark's material is found in Matthew and Luke, in the same basic sequence, and because Mark is much shorter than Matthew and Luke, it is argued that Mark was one of their sources. The second source identifies some other material in Matthew and Luke which is very similar but not found at all in Mark. It is called “Q,” from the German word for source, “Quelle.” Since both Matthew and Luke have material that is unique in each gospel, this theory also refers to sources “M” and “L.” The great majority of NT scholars accept the Two Source Theory. 2) Griesbach hypothesis. Because the “Q” source has never been found as a document, Matthew would be the earliest, used as a source by Luke. This view holds that Mark is the latest gospel, a condensed, compacted version of Matthew and Luke. See Synoptic Gospels.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.