Synoptic Gospels

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In the Christian Bible, in the part known as the New Testament, the first four books are known as the gospels, while the first three of these, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are so similar that they are sometimes referred to as the synoptic gospels (from Greek, συν, syn, together, and οψις, opsis, seeing). These gospels often recount the same stories about Jesus, generally follow the same sequence and, often use the same or similar wording. The hows and whys of these books similarities and differences to each other and to other gospels is known as the synoptic problem. The synoptic gospels are also often contrasted with the Gospel according to John.



The term synoptic comes from Greek and means "seeing together", but was coined specifically to deal with analyzing and understanding the similarities and differences between the first three gospels. The term synopsis might have first been used in 1583 by Georg Siegel, but it was not until 1774, when Johann Jakob Griesbach published his Synopsis that the base term entered the scholastic vernacular, and not until about the 1840s that the term began to be used as an adjective.[1] From the 1830's onward, scholars generally began using the term synoptic gospels instead of the term first three gospels.

However, the origin of the concept, per se, stems from much earlier: As early as the 4th century, these three books were "seen together", starting with the Church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, who had devised a method that enabled scholars to find parallel texts. In the 5th century, Augustine of Hippo developed what was later known as the Augustinian hypothesis, which proposed why these three gospels were so similar. In this view, the gospels were written in order of presentation, but that Mark was Matthew's "lackey and abbreviator" and that Luke drew from both sources, that is:

Matthew -> Mark 
   \__ _ __/

This view went unchallenged until the late 18th century, when Anton Bsching posited that Luke came first, and Mark conflated Luke and Matthew, that is:

Luke -> Matthew 
  \__ _ __/

In 1774 Griesbach published his landmark parallel study, calling it a Synopsis. Over the subsequent years, he developed what became known as the Griesbach hypothesis, and now called the two-gospel hypothesis, or simply "2GH". This hypothesis maintains the primacy of Matthew, but proposes that Luke is directly based on it, while Mark is based on both. Thus we have:

Matthew  ->  Luke
     \__ _ __/

Since then, other hypotheses have been proffered in order to deal with the synoptic problem. These hypotheses include the Ur-Gospel hypothesis (1778), the two-source hypothesis (1838, 1863), Farrer hypothesis (1955), the Lindsey hypothesis (1963), Jerusalem School hypothesis (1973), the Logia Translation hypothesis (1998), and more.[2]


Scholars generally date the synoptic gospels as having been written after the epistles of Paul and before the gospel according to John, thus between 70 and 115 AD. As to the specific dates for each book, this largely depends on (or supports) the particular hypothesis used to account for the book's textual relationship.


Main article: synoptic problem

The relationship between the texts is the subject of the synoptic problem, which essentially seeks answers to the question of why the texts are so similar at times using exactly the same wording and mentioning the same sequence of events, despite the fact that other intervening events must have happened, even if they were mundane events such as Jesus sleeping or people gossiping about him.

The synoptic gospels all tell the story of Jesus, proclaiming him the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Messiah (Christ), the judge of the future apocalypse. The synoptic gospels start either with Jesus' birth or his baptism and conclude with the empty tomb and resurrection appearances, though some texts of Mark end at the empty tomb (see Mark 16). In these gospels, Jesus cures diseases, exorcises demons, forgives sins, displays dominion over nature, knows the secret thoughts and past of others, speaks "with authority," calls God his own Father and says that the Father had handed over to him "all things."

See also