Goodacre’s short book is an introduction to the Synoptic problem, or the question of how the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) are related. He walks the reader through the problems and some of the theories about them. The first question: which gospel came first? The vast majority of scholars accept Mark as the first gospel, because of how Matthew and Luke clearly use his text, and because he uses simple language and vocabulary. Goodacre follows other scholars on this. This is contrary to the minority opinion, the Griesbach hypothesis, which holds that Matthew came first.
The next question, then, is where Matthew and Luke get their material from. Most scholars accept the “two source theory”: Matthew and Luke both use Mark as well as an independent sayings gospel called “Q.” Q has never been found, so it is purely hypothetical, but scholars suspect it is of the same genre as the gnostic Gospel of Thomas, which contains only sayings and teachings of Jesus with no narrative. Most scholars accept Q, but Goodacre does not. He instead sides with the Farrer hypothesis, which holds that Mark came first, Matthew used Mark, and then Luke used Matthew and Mark. (At all steps in the process, of course, oral tradition played a role as well.) He argues that pro-Q scholarship ignores instances of Luke using Matthew’s version of Mark, or Luke including stories in Matthew but not in Mark.
The synoptic problem has been around in New Testament scholarship for some time, and scholars spent a lot of time developing the contemporary consensus of Markan priority and Q. That said, I can’t help but wonder if this is an issue we can set aside for some time until new evidence comes up. There is just so little evidence one way or the other. That said, it is an issue that all biblical scholars need to be familiar with, and Goodacre is good at walking the reader through the issues rather than simply telling them what to think. He reduplicates synoptic parallels so the reader can see what he is talking about, and explains how to color code a synopsis. The chapters are broken up into small sections, and each chapter and section has a summary at the end. This was a nice gym read, but it would also be a good text for a class on the synoptic gospels.