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Bible Commentaries

The Gospels Compared

New Testament

Matthew Mark LukeJohn


The synoptic Gospels are the first three Gospels of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark and Luke and are considered as one unit. The Gospel parallels provided here also include the Gospel of John for comparison. The term synoptic is derived from a combination of the Greek words σύν (syn = together) and οψις (opsis = seeing) to indicate that the contents of these three Gospels can be viewed side-by-side, whether in a vertical parallel column synopsis, or a horizontal synoptic alignment. These first three books have been called the synoptic Gospels since the 18th century and are so called because they give similar accounts of the ministry of Jesus. The term is also applied to apocryphal works of the 2nd century (e.g., The Gospel of Thomas). The Gospel according to John has a number of points of contact with the three synoptic Gospels but differs considerably from them in content and therefore not all Gospel synopses display the book of John. The fourth canonical gospel of John differs significantly from the synoptics in terms of Christology, which is the field of study within Christian theology which is concerned with the nature of Jesus the Christ, in particular, how the divine and human are related in his person. Christology is generally less concerned with the details of Jesus' life than it is with how the human and divine co-exist in one person.

The synoptic gospels often recount the same stories about Jesus, though sometimes with different and more or less detail, but mostly following the same sequence and to a large extent using the same words. The question of the relationship between the three is called the synoptic problem. This problem concerns the literary relationships between and among the first three canonical gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke collectively known as the synoptic Gospels. Similarity in word choices and event placement shows an interrelationship. The synoptic problem concerns how this interrelation came to pass and what the nature of this interrelationship is. Any solution must account for the similarities and differences in content, order, and wording. Possible answers speculate either a direct relationship (one Evangelist possessed one of the gospels) or indirect (two Evangelists having access to a shared source).

Most Protestant and some Roman Catholic scholars agree that Matthew and Luke were written later than Mark, which they followed closely. Matthew then divided Mark into five portions and used them in order, separating them by other material. Luke divided the book only in two, nine chapters being inserted between. Mark however, only accounts for half of the other two Gospels. Matthew and Luke each have about 100 verses in common, most of them sayings like the Beatitudes. Views about the dating of all four Gospels vary greatly from about 60-70 AD until the end of the first century where it is believed the Gospel of John was last written.


Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 19th, 2017
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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