The Synoptic Gospels
The synoptic gospels consist of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Synoptic is from the Greek and means "seen together" or "from the same eye".
The first three gospels share a considerable amount of passages and information that are not seen in the gospel of John; hence the name synoptic. The synoptic gospels are all written in third person, as if the authors were there observing the events at the time they were happening. Robert M. Grant's Historical Introduction to the New Testament (available at Religion Online) summarizes the history of these gospels.
Matthew is believed by some, to have been a tax collector before he was called to be one of Jesus's 12 disciples. It is believed by many scholars that Matthew actually wrote his original transcripts in Greek and not Hebrew.
Mark is believed to be a companion of Paul and Peter, as well as the cousin to Barnabas. It is traditionally believed that Mark is writing his gospel as eyewitness testimony from Peter's stories of Jesus.
Luke Is believed to be a physician and companion of Paul. Due to Luke's profession his gospel takes a scientific and orderly approach to the accounts of Jesus. Luke also gives great details and narratives within his gospel unlike the other two authors. His stories are longer, and contain more information than any of the other gospels. Luke is also the only other author of the synoptic gospels who wrote other books found in the bible. As a follow up to his gospel, it is believed that Luke wrote the book of Acts.
Despite Matthew, Mark, and Luke never actually meeting Jesus, the exact nature of their relationship to each other is unknown and as a result this is known as "the most fascinating literary enigma of all time". However, this also poses as a "problem" when trying to understand how each of these three gospels was written.
There is no evidence to substantially prove which of these three gospels was written first, however it is the long standing view that the gospel of Mark was written first. It is also believed that Matthew and Luke borrowed from him as well as one other hypothetical source lost to history known as document Q or "Quelle".
Facts about each writer can be found in the table below.
Mark (2nd generation Christian and follower of Peter)
Gentile Christian community in Rome undergoing persecution
Mathew (Jewish Christian; known as apostle Matthew)
Luke (Gentile Christian; physician and Paul's traveling companion)
Theophilus, meaning lover of God (could represent all Christians)
What is Triple Tradition?
Triple tradition refers to the common material found within the three synoptic gospels.
Almost all of Mark's content is found within the gospels of Matthew and Luke.There are roughly 30 common stories and teachings found in all three gospels. The wording and placement of these parables within each individual gospel are very similar, as well as historical events and places.
Examples of common stories include the parable of "calming the sea", "blind near Jericho", and "new wine into old wine skins" just to name a few. The text from these parables may vary slightly between the gospels, however the parables are still found in roughly the same placement within each gospel. The varied lengths in these parables contributes to the slight placement variations as well as added narration commonly found in the gospel of Luke.
Just as the three gospels share common parables there are over a couple hundred verses shared between Matthew and Luke alone. These couple hundred verses are known as the double tradition and encompasses roughly a quarter of the content found within the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Common parables shared between Matthew and Luke include "the lost sheep", "the faithful servant", and "the return of the unclean spirit". Within these common parables Matthew sticks to large blocks of sayings, where Luke incorporates narratives. Luke's narratives tend to make his passages a little longer and therefore the common verses are in different placements in both gospels.
Below you can see the differences and similarities between the two written accounts of the parable "the lost sheep".
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
12 “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13 And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
Special M & Special L:
What is special M and special L? Special M or special Matthew, refers to the material only found in the gospel of Matthew. Likewise special L or special Luke, refers to content only found in Luke.
Special Matthew makes up roughly 20 percent of the gospel of Matthew and is all parables not found in any other gospel. Special Luke on the other hand makes up close to 35 percent of the gospel of Luke and includes healings as well as parables that you cannot find in any other gospel.
It is hard to say with certainty who wrote the synoptic gospels, when they wrote them, and where; however the major similarities among all three point to truth.The synoptic gospels are three separate books that share common ideas, parables, and events witnessed by others during the time of Jesus. These books were written over many years following Christ's death and resurrection, yet they contain the same truths and wonders about Jesus and his followers.
One can learn a great deal from comparing the gospels, and by looking at the comparisons and differences we can learn the truths that lay within.
Today we can learn much from these sources. The similarities between these three books only solidify for me what I already know, which is Jesus did indeed walk this Earth and some day He will return again.
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Cholee Clay