Conceptual Framework The term synoptic is applied to those gospels which appear to have been created from the same traditional sources: Mark, Matthew and Luke. The interconnection of the 'Synoptics' is not, however, simply one of close resemblance, it is also one of striking difference. When compared attentively, the three records appear distinct as well as similar in incidents, plan, and language. The harmony and the variety, the resemblance's and the differences in their portrayal of Jesus, must be both accounted for. They form together a literary problem that is commonly referred to as the Synoptic Problem. Introduction The Synoptics is the name given since Griesbach's time (about 1790) to the first three canonical Gospels.
It is derived from the fact that these Gospels admit -- differently from the evangelical narrative of St. John, of being arranged and harmonized section by section, so as to allow the eye to realize at a glance (synopsis) the numerous passages which are common to them, and also the portions which are peculiar either to only two, or even to only one, of them. By definition the 's ynoptics' are those gospels that report the same general outline for the story of Jesus. There is enough sustained agreement between the sequence of sayings & deeds that Matthew, Mark & Luke ascribe to Jesus to convince most scholars that the story-line of these gospels comes from the same text. Determining which text is probably the basis of the others is the work of source criticism.
Within this common synoptic narrative framework, however, there is considerable variation in the sequence of items reported by Matthew, Mark & Luke. Some pericope's included by two are missing in the third. Others are unique to one gospel. Even pericope's shared by two or more gospels are not always reported in the same sequence. Since self-contained sayings may be recalled in virtually any sequence & be repeated almost anywhere, it is not surprising to find that one of the major differences between the synoptic gospels is in the logical syntax between the aphorisms & parables they ascribe Jesus.
The fact that 2 or 3 gospels repeat several blocks of stories or sayings in the same order is evidence of the dependence of the author of one text on another. So when one or two gospels diverge from the sequence of material in the third, it is evident that some author (s) deliberately edited the original source by inserting, omitting or transposing certain items. Such changes account for the fact that the segments of the synoptic outlines indicated in the table above vary in length according to gospel. Even if these differences in sequence do not alter the interpretation of the passages themselves, they are important indications of the viewpoint & logic of a particular author (Matthew, Mark or Luke).
For an editor would only bother to alter a text he was copying to improve it for some purpose -- adding things he thought important, omitting distractions & rearranging items to make a more persuasive presentation. Analysis of the patterns of changes that one author made in a text composed by another is the work of redaction criticism. All attempts at assigning the cause of the similarities and differences of the first three Gospels can generally be classified under three general heads, according to the relationships of the Synoptics: A, oral tradition; B, mutual dependence; or C, earlier documents. Harmony / Disharmony of the Gospels There is considerable historical evidence external to the Gospels for the traditional authors. (168) Papias, bishop of the church at Hierapolis in Asia Minor and an old man by A. D.
130, name Matthew and Mark as Gospel writers, indicating that Matthew wrote in Hebrew or Aramaic and describing Mark as one who recorded Peter's reminiscences. Papias was himself a student of the Apostle John. (169) Justin Martyr, after studying many contemporary Greek philosophies, converted to Christianity sometime before AD 130. He speaks of the Gospels as 'memoirs of the apostles.
(170) He says they were written 'by apostles and those who followed them, (171) which matches the traditional ascription to two apostles (Matthew and John) and two followers (Mark of Peter, Luke of Paul). He quotes from or mentions matters found in each of the four Gospels, and apparently alludes to Mark's Gospel as Peter's memoirs. (172) It is generally agreed that the Gospels were written between 60 and 90 AD. Most scholars place the writing of John around 85 AD. They also believe that Mark was written before the other two gospels, Matthew and Luke, and the latter had access to Mark's writing before they wrote their own gospels in the early 60's A. D.
This Triple Tradition was based on the material that was common between these three gospels. It would appear from the 'harmony of the Gospels' that the gospel authors had access to the same document or oral teaching. We know from Scripture that Jesus taught the disciples 'in all things.' In John 14: 26 Jesus informs us:' the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.' Through this promise of Jesus, each disciple had access to all that he was taught. It has been postulated that they may have had a common input, a 'Q's source. The 'Q' terminology being derived from the German word 'Quelle' meaning source. The initial or common input information could have come from either a spiritual, an unknown written or an oral source, or more likely, a combination of all three.
The Griesbach Hypothesis was that Matthew was the first Gospel written, that Luke used Matthew, and that Mark used both Matthew and Luke. This seems highly unlikely, since all of Mark is contained in Matthew and Luke. Mark did have the longest discussion on 30 percent of the topics listed in Table I, but why would Mark omit the many topics given in Matthew and Luke which are critical for a full picture of Jesus and His work. Griesbach's assumption that Matthew would not have used a document supplied by Mark, a non-apostle. However, if Peter was the driving force as postulated above, Matthew would have used Mark. Griesbach's argument that the agreement between Matthew and Luke also discounts the idea of Mark writing first, but the argument above also defuses that objection.
The Griesbach hypothesis is not feasible. Assuming the Priority of Mark and Q, did Matthew and Luke use the same Mark and Q? The existence of different copies of Mark is possible but no proof of such existence exists. It is more likely due to the common material between Matthew and Luke that does not exist in Mark that the two knew the others writing. Q was probably a combination of writings, oral communication and tradition rather than a single written document. As stated above, it is more likely that Peter directed Mark to compile the information available and the other apostles added to the information provided by Mark from their own experiences and he assigned other portions of the story not already covered to the Gospel writers. Refer to Table 1 below: Synoptic Gospel Outlines Outline Narrative Segment Matthew Mark Luke 1 Jesus' background 1: 1 - 4: 11 1: 1-13 1: 1 - 4: 132 Jesus teaches in Galilee 4: 12 - 9: 17 1: 14 - 3: 19 4: 14 - 7: 102 a Jesus's sermon 5: 1 - 7: 27 6: 20-493 Jesus' Prophetic Mission 9: 18 - 12: 50 3: 19-35 7: 11-504 Jesus Uses Parables 12: 46 - 13: 52 3: 31 - 4: 34 8: 1-215 Who is Jesus? 13: 53 - 18: 25 4: 35 - 9: 50 8: 22 - 9: 506 Jesus Journeys to Judea 19: 1 - 20: 34 10: 1-52 9: 51 - 19: 277 Jesus at Jerusalem 21: 1 - 25: 46 11: 1 - 13: 37 19: 28 - 21: 38 8 Jesus' last days 26: 1 - 27: 66 14: 1 - 15: 47 22: 1 - 23: 569 Resurrection reports 28: 1-20 16: 1-8 (9-20) 24: 1-53 Upon the examination of an ordinary harmony of the four, or of a synopsis of the first three, Gospels, which show in parallel columns the coincident parts of the evangelical narratives, the reader will at once notice the large amount of matter which is common to the Gospels of St.
Matthew, St. Mark, and St. Luke. Brief as these three sketches of Christ's life actually are, they run parallel to one another in no less than 330-370 verses or about one-third of their whole account of Christ's words and deeds, while, with the exception of a few incidents (68 verses), the whole contents of St. Mark are practically found in St.
Matthew and in St. Luke. This agreement in the facts related appears all the more striking, because of the great amount of historical material which must have been at the disposal of each Synoptical writer. The Synoptists are, each and all, fully aware that Jesus healed vast numbers of various diseases; they nevertheless agree in selecting the same cases of healing for fuller record; and while they distinctly speak of His unceasing and extensive teaching, yet they usually concur in reporting the same discourses.
A no less wonderful similarity may be observed between the first three Gospels with regard to the general conception and the order of the whole narrative. In all three, Christ's public life is distinctly connected with the preaching of St. John the Baptist, is chiefly confined to Galilee, and is set forth in certain epochs, as the early Galilean ministry, the crisis in Galilee, the ministry in Pere a and Jerusalem, and the tragic end in the Holy City followed by a glorious Resurrection. In constructing their several records, the Synoptists adopt the same general method of presentation, giving not a consecutive narrative that would result from a fusing of the material employed, but a series of little accounts which are isolated by peculiar introductory and concluding formulae, and which repeatedly agree in details and in order even where a deviation from the chronological sequence is manifest.
Together with all these resemblances, there is throughout the Synoptics a remarkable agreement in words and phrases, which can be more particularly realized by means of a Greek harmony or a close translation of the original text. This verbal agreement in the Greek Gospels is all the more surprising, as Jesus spoke in Aramaic, and as in most cases, it is plain that the verbal resemblances cannot be referred to an accidental similarity, since they are due to the common use of very peculiar terms and expressions, of identical variations from either the Hebrew or the Septuagint in quotations from the Old Testament. The interconnection of the Synoptics is not, however, simply one of close resemblance, it is also one of striking difference. When compared attentively, the three records appear distinct as well as similar in incidents, plan, and language. Each Synoptical writer introduces into his narrative fragments more or less extensive, at times entire episodes which are not related by the other two Evangelists.
St. Mark says nothing of the infancy and the early life of Christ, while St. Matthew and St. Luke, who speak of them, do not as a rule narrate the same facts. St. Mark does not even allude to the Sermon on the Mount, and St.
Luke alone narrates in detail the last journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. On the other hand, Matt. , xiv, 22 -- xvi, 12 and Mark, vi, 45 -- viii, 26, record a series of Galilean incidents which are nowhere found in the third Gospel. Despite his obvious conciseness, St. Mark has two miracles and two parables wholly peculiar to himself. St.
Matthew, who apparently does not aim at brevity, makes no reference to the Ascension. Moreover, in the very passages which indicate a close relation of the three, or of at least two, Synoptics, in their sources, minor differences in the events recorded continually appear, which can be fully realized only through a diligent study of the parallel passages, or through the perusal of larger commentaries in which such constant differences are distinctly pointed out. At times the divergences are so great as to appear, at first, actual contradictions. Of this description are the differences noticeable between the genealogies of Jesus (Matt. , i, 1-17; Luke, iii, 23-38), the accounts of the episode of the demoniac's of Gera sa (Matt. , viii, 28-34; Mark, v, 1-20; Luke, viii, 26-39), of the miraculous healing connected with Jericho (Matt.
, xx, 29-34; Mark, x, 46-52; Luke, xviii, 35-43), of the petition of the mother of James and John (Matt. , xx, 20-28; Mark, x, 35-45), of the incidents relative to the Resurrection, etc. The general disposition of the events narrated betrays also considerable differences. Thus while St. Matthew devotes three successive chapters to the Sermon on the Mount (v-vii) and gives together the parables of the kingdom in one chapter (xiii), St. Luke divides this twofold topic into several portions which he connects with distinct circumstances.
it is well known too, that St. Matthew very often gathers together topics which are similar, while St. Mark and St. Luke follow more closely the chronological order, whence arise numerous transpositions which affect the general arrangement of the narrative. Numerous variations can likewise be noticed in the particular arrangement of facts and words, for the elements of the one and the same episode often occupy a different place in one or other of the Synoptics, or either Evangelist suppresses or adds a detail which modifies the incident. Finally, the verbal differences between the first three Gospels are hardly less numerous and striking than their verbal resemblances.
Each Synoptist has his peculiar and favourite words and expressions, which have been carefully tabulated by recent Biblical scholars (Hawkins, 'Horae synoptic ae'; Allen, on St. Matthew; Swede, on St. Mark; Plummer, on St. Luke). The verbal differences appear in the very passages which abound in verbal coincidences (cf. for instance, Matt.
, xviii, 2, 3; Mark, ix, 47, 48), the identity of expression never extending through passages of any length, and unless in reported discourses of Christ rarely beyond a few words at a time. This is often due to the use of synonymous terms, or of different tenses, or of different propositions, or of short glosses which either Synoptist adds to the same name or detail. We find for instance, in Matt. , ix, 6, kline, in Mark, ii, 11, , in Luke, v, 24, ; in Matt. , iii, 16, 'Spirit of God', in Mark, i, 10, 'Spirit', in Luke, iii, 22, 'the Holy Ghost'; etc. And what is of particular significance in this connexion, is the fact that the verbal differences occur when one should most naturally expect an absolute identity of expressions, as for instance, in the words of the institution of the Holy Eucharist, in the record of the title on the Cross, etc.
The Synoptic Problem The Synoptic Problem is not really a 'problem' in the normal sense of the term. It is simply a way to refer to questions and possible explanations about the literary relationships between the first three New Testament Gospels. The word 'synoptic' means 'with the same eye' or 'seeing together.' Matthew, Mark, and Luke present the basic story of Jesus in similar ways, including the order of the material, the stories told, the sayings of Jesus, even using many of the same words in parallel accounts. For this reason they are called the Synoptic Gospels.
On the other hand, while the Gospel of John sometimes resembles the other three Gospels, it tells the story of Jesus in significantly different ways, including a different order of events, different perspectives and points of emphasis, and with its own unique vocabulary and style. Those differences can be understood in terms other than literary relationships between the Gospels, which is the reason John is not included in the Synoptic Problem. The Synoptic Gospels share a great deal of material and features. There are differences between them in many areas, some more pronounced than others. Yet, all the questions about the differences arise precisely because of the otherwise close parallels between the Synoptics.
There are places where the Synoptic Gospels are closely parallel in their recounting of incidents from the life of Jesus. For example, in the account of the calling of Levi (Matthew): Matthew (9: 9-13) Mark (2: 13-17) Luke (5: 27-32) 13 Jesus went out again beside the sea; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. 27 After this he went out 9 As Jesus was walking along, 14 As he was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. he saw Levi son of Alpheus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he got up and followed him. and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, "Follow me." 28 And he got up, left everything, and followed him. 10 And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples.
15 And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples -- for there were many who followed him. 29 Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, 30 The Pharisees and their scribes they said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" they said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" were complaining to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" 12 But when he heard this, 17 When Jesus heard this, he said, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. he said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 31 Jesus answered, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 13 Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. " I have come to call not the righteous but sinners." 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance. Yet, as similar as they are, there are still differences between the Gospels on many levels.
Even in these very similar passages, there are minor differences of word order, words used, syntax and style of writing, and grammatical variations. There are also differences in other details between the Gospels, some of which can be seen above. Sometimes names are included or omitted, or are given in different forms, as in the illustration above where Matthew is called Levi in Mark and Luke. Sometimes additional details are added in one account, such as the quotation from Hosea added in Matthew's version above (v. 13). Sometimes a saying of Jesus is recorded in Aramaic, while the parallel passages record it in Hebrew, for example in Jesus' quotation of Psalm 22: 1 from the cross, recorded in Aramaic in Mark (15: 34) but in Hebrew in Matthew (27: 46).
Sometimes different but synonymous Greek words are used in an otherwise parallel passage. In most ways, these variations do not change much about the narrative. Yet, they are significant enough that they are not easily ignored. Also there are differences in minor historical details.
For example, the well-known story of the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus contains several such differences. Matthew (20: 29-34) Mark (10: 46-52) Luke (18: 35-43) 46 They came to Jericho. 35 As he approached Jericho, 29 As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, 30 There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, 36 When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening.
37 They told him, 'Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.' they shouted, 'Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!' he began to shout out and say 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' 38 Then he shouted, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' 31 The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, 'Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!' 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' 39 Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' 32 Jesus stood still and called them, 49 Jesus stood still and said, 'Call him here.' 40 Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; And they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take heart; get up, he is calling you.' 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. and when he came near, saying, 'What do you want me to do for you?' 51 Then Jesus said to him, 'What do you want me to do for you?' he asked him, 41 'What do you want me to do for you?' 33 They said to him, 'Lord, let our eyes be opened.' The blind man said to him, 'My teacher, let me see again.' He said, 'Lord, let me see again.' 34 Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes 52 Jesus said to him, 'Go; your faith has made you well.' 42 Jesus said to him, 'Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.' Immediately they regained their sight and followed him. Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. 43 Immediately he regained his sight and followed him glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God. In Matthew and Mark, the incident happens as Jesus and the disciples were leaving Jericho (Matt.
20: 29, Mk 10: 46), while in Luke as they were entering the town (Lk. 18: 35). In Matthew there are two unnamed blind men (20: 30), in Luke a single unnamed blind man (18: 35), while in Mark he is called Bartimaeus son of Timaues (10: 46). In all three accounts the crowd is hostile to the blind man, but Mark tells us that some of the crowd encouraged him to respond to Jesus (10: 49). In Matthew, Jesus simply calls to the two men, while in Mark and Luke he has the blind man brought to him. Again, while these differences can be understood in terms of writings styles or different purposes of telling the story within the Gospels, the fact that they are such variations on an incident reported in very similar ways in the Synoptics raises the question of the relationship between the accounts.
Other differences are even more substantial, although still variations of what seems like a common tradition. While the basic order of events is similar in the Synoptics, some sayings of Jesus occur in different settings in the various Gospels. For example, Matthew presents many of Jesus's sayings in a large block of teaching material delivered while he is seated on a mountain (the Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5: 1-7: 27): 'When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying... .' However, many of these same sayings are scattered throughout the other two Gospels. Luke has a much shorter version of these collected sayings (Lk. 6: 17-49), but the locale in which they are placed is different: 'He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon.' Because of the location, Luke's version of Jesus' teachings is known as the Sermon on the Plain.
Other parables, teachings, or particular events in the Gospels are placed at different points in the narrative or in different literary contexts (see The Time of the Crucifixion). For example, Luke places Jesus' rejection at the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth as one of the first events of his public ministry (Lk 4: 16-30). However, Mark places it much later, about halfway through his Galilean ministry (Mark 6: 1-6). Mark places Jesus' calling of the disciples before his Capernaum preaching (Mark 1: 16-20), while Luke places it after (Lk 5: 1-11).
Conclusion What is clear from this brief survey of the Synoptic tradition is that there is no certain picture of how the Gospels were formed in terms of sources. There is no single theory of documents or sources that definitively demonstrates how all the similarities and differences in the Synoptic tradition can be explained. Today, most people accept either the Two Document or Four Source Hypotheses as being most reasonable, probably with the majority leaning to the Four Source Hypotheses. Today most allow a role for some form of a Q document, although there remains little agreement on the details of how it was used or what it contained. The Gospels writers did not change the basic truth of the tradition in its testimony to Jesus as the Christ and God's self-revelation of Himself in Jesus.
But they did treat its message as a living tradition that could be applied and reapplied in the life of the community of Faith to call people to faithful response to that revelation, and to God. That may be the greatest insight we can learn from the study of the Synoptic Problem, because finally, for most of us, that is still our task today and is the purpose for which we study Scripture. Cited References (168) John Warwick Montgomery, 'Miracles and he Easter Week Narratives,' Evidence for Faith, (Dallas, Probe Books, 1986) Return (169) Recorded in Eusebius Church History 3. 39. 15-16. Return (170) Justin Apology 1.
33, 66, 67: idem, Dialogue with Try pho 100-107. Return (171) Justin Dialogue 103. 7. Return (172) IBID. Dialogue 106. 3.
Return (173) B. C. Butler, The Originality of St. Matthew (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1951, 62-71.
Return (174) See Chapter 7 of WHY BELIEVE? , JP Dawson, Aaron C Ministries. Return (175) Robert H. Stein, The Synoptic Problem: An Introduction. (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1992). Return (177) Acts 12: 2.
And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. Return (178) Colossians 4: 14; Luke, the beloved physician, and Dem as, greet you. Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nymph as, and the church which is in his house.
I Timothy 4: 11. These things command and teach. Return (179) Mark 1: 32-34. And at even, when the sun did set, they brought unto him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils.
And all the city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils, and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him. Return (180) Luke 4: 40-41; Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them. And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ. Matthew 8: 16-17.
When the even was come, they brought unto him many that were possessed with devils: and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that wee sick: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esa ias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses. Return (181) Matthew 13: 10-11. And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speak est thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. Return (182) Mark 4: 10-12. And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable. And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables.
That seeing they many see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. Return (183) Luke 8: 9-10. And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God; but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. Return (184) Matthew 27: 11-14; And the multitude said, This is Jesus he prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. Return Most scholars today have adopted what is called the 'Two Document Hypothesis,' arguing that Mark and some other source, now lost and simply known as Q, served as the primary bases for the writing of Matthew and Luke.