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The Griesbach hypothesis suggests that the Gospel of Matthew was written first. The Gospel of Luke was written using Matthew as a source. Then the Gospel of Mark was written using both Matthew and Luke.

The Griesbach hypothesis is an early 19th-century solution to the synoptic problem. It gives priority to the Gospel of Matthew, portrays the Gospel of Luke as based on it, and the Gospel of Mark as based on both. This hypothesis was proposed as an alternative to the currently-prevailing theories of Marcan priority and the two-source hypothesis.


Griesbach's proposal

What came to be labeled the Griesbach Hypothesis was already anticipated by the British scholar, Henry Owen (1716-1795), in a piece he published in 1764 and by Friedrich Andreas Stroth (1750-1785) in an article he published anonymously in 1781. Johann Jakob Griesbach (January 4, 1745 - March 24, 1812), to whom this source hypothesis was first accredited and for whom it was once named, alluded to his conclusion that Matthew wrote the first of the canonical gospels and that Luke, not Mark, made first use of Matthew in composing the second of the canonical gospels in an address celebrating the Easter season at the University of Jena in 1783. Later, for similar Whitsun programs at Jena (1789-1790), Griesbach published a much more detailed Demonstration that the Whole Gospel of Mark is Excerpted from the Narratives of Matthew & Luke.

Griesbach's theory was, therefore, one of direct literary dependence between and among the gospels of Matthew, Luke and Mark or what German speaking scholars, in particular, came to call a "utilization hypothesis." According to Griesbach, the historical order of the gospels was, first, Matthew; second Luke, making use of Matthew and other non-Matthean tradition; and third, Mark, making use of both Matthew and Luke. In proposing this hypothesis, Griesbach maintained Matthean priority, as had Augustine[1] before him, along with every other scholar in the church prior to the late eighteenth century.

Proof from Minor Agreements

Griesbach's main support for his thesis lies in passages where Matthew and Luke agree over and against Mark (e.g. Matthew 26:68; Luke 22:64; Mark 14:65), the so-called Minor Agreements. It is unclear whether these minor passages are a mere coincidence or a proof of Lukan dependence on Matthew.

Status of the hypothesis

In recent times the Griesbach hypothesis has been followed by only a few (W. R. Farmer 1964, Bernard Orchard 1976, 1982, 1983, 1987, Enoch Powell 1977[2], 1994[3] and D. L. Dungan), but the many problems it poses make it less accepted than the more common Two-source hypothesis supported by the majority of scholars. Since Farmer prepared extensive writings arguing against the more common priority of Mark solutions and for the priority of Matthew, this solution has usually been called the Two Gospel Hypothesis because it proposes Matthew and Luke as the two main synoptic gospels with Mark as a later and less original work.

See also


For Griesbach's life and work, including the full text of the cited work in Latin and in English translation, cf. Bernard Orchard and Thomas R. W. Longstaff (ed.), J. J. Griesbach: Synoptic and Text-Critical Studies 1776-1976, Volume 34 in SNTS Monograph Series (Cambridge University Press, hardback 1978, paperback 2005 ISBN 0-521-02055-7).

  1. ^ De Consensu evangelistarum, i.2(4)
  2. ^ Wrestling with the Angel, Ch. 18, Sheldon Press, 1977
  3. ^ The Evolution of the Gospel, Yale University Press, 1994

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