The Synoptic Problem

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The Synoptic Problem:

The Synoptic Problem by Margaret E. Lee, Th.D.

PowerPoint Presentation:

Why are some gospels called "synoptic"?

PowerPoint Presentation:

From the Greek: σύν = with + ὄψις = see Meaning: Looking at an overview Seeing everything all at once or at the same time The “synoptic” gospels are the 3 gospels that look very similar when placed side-by-side

The synoptic gospels:

The synoptic gospels The synoptic gospels all follow the same basic story line The synoptic gospels are: Matthew Mark Luke

The synoptic gospel plot::

The synoptic gospel plot: Baptism Ministry in Galilee The Way to the Cross Ministry in Judea Ministry in Jerusalem Apocalyptic Discourse Passion and Crucifixion Resurrection

Synoptic Stories:

Synoptic Stories Matthew Mark Luke Baptism 3:1-4:11 1:2-13 3:1-4:13 Ministry in Galilee 4:12-23; 8:1-16:12 1:14-3:19 4:14-6:16; 7:1-9:17 The Way to the Cross 16:13-18:9 8:27-9:50 9:18-9:50 Ministry in Judea 19:1-20:34 10:1-10:52 18:15-19:27 Ministry in Jerusalem 21:1-23:39 11:1-12:44 19:28-21:4 Apocalyptic Discourse 24:1-36 13:1-37 21:5-36 Passion and Crucifixion 26:1-35 14:1-15:47 22:1-38 Resurrection 28:1-15 16:1-8 24:1-43

The story line is different in the Gospel of John::

The story line is different in the Gospel of John: Prologue 1:1-18 Book of Signs 1:19-12:50 Book of Glory 13:1-20:31 Epilogue 21:1-25

The Synoptic Problem::

The Synoptic Problem: Why are the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke so similar?

Synoptic analysis::

Synoptic analysis: When the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are analyzed side-by-side, we notice some interesting things: Almost all of the material in Mark’s gospel is included in the gospels of Matthew and Luke Much of this material is duplicated almost word-for-word Events follow the same sequence

Example #1: A Healing:

Example #1: A Healing Mark 1:29-31 Matthew 8:14-15 Luke 4:38-39 As soon as they * left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. When Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever; he touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she got up and began to serve him. After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

Example #2: A Parable:

Example #2: A Parable Matthew 13:3-9 Mark 4:3-9 Luke 8:5-8 ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. ... Let anyone with ears * listen!’ ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. ... ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ ‘A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. … ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’

Example#3: The Crucifixion:

Example#3: The Crucifixion Matthew 27:33 Mark 15:22-26 Luke 23:33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ Then they brought Jesus * to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus * there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.

Synoptic analysis:

Synoptic analysis The gospels of Matthew and Luke are much longer than Mark’s gospel: Additional sections in Matthew and Luke are inserted at the same points in the basic synoptic plot Beginning – birth narratives Middle - sayings End – unique conclusions

Additions to the synoptic outline::

Additions to the synoptic outline: Basic Outline Matthew Luke Birth narrative 1:1-2:23 Birth narrative 1:-2:52 Baptism Ministry in Galilee Sermon on the Mount 5:1-7:29 (mostly from Q) Sermon on the Plain 6:17-49 (mostly from Q) Way to the Cross Parable Discourse 18:10-35 Journey to Jerusalem 9:51-18:14 Ministry in Judaea Ministry in Jerusalem Apocalyptic Discourse Passion and Crucifixion Great Commission 28:16-20 Ascension 24:44-53

Solutions to the synoptic problem:

Solutions to the synoptic problem Scholars propose various hypotheses to resolve the synoptic problem Then they test these hypotheses, just like scientists test scientific theories through experimentation Based on the results of their tests, scholars identify the hypothesis that best explains the evidence


Evidence: Since almost all of Mark’s gospel is contained in Matthew and Luke, often word-for-word, …and since the gospels of Matthew and Luke include the same events in the same order as Mark’s gospel, …and since Matthew and Luke both contain added material at the beginning, middle, and end ….

… therefore …:

… therefore …

Most scholars agree::

Most scholars agree: … the Gospel of Mark was written first

PowerPoint Presentation:

… the authors of Matthew and Luke used a manuscript of Mark’s gospel when they wrote their own stories of Jesus’ life;

PowerPoint Presentation:

… the authors of Matthew and Luke added to Mark’s gospel some additional material they thought was important.


Summary Evidence: Most of Mark’s gospel appears in Matthew and Luke Events from Mark’s gospel appear in Matthew and Luke in the same order and using the same words as Mark Additional material appears in Matthew and Luke in the same places Explanation: Mark’s gospel was written first The authors of Matthew and Luke used a copy of Mark’s gospel when writing their stories Matthew and Luke added birth stories, conclusions, and sayings

Gospel of Mark:

Gospel of Mark Based primarily on Mark 13 but also on other evidence: The Gospel of Mark was written close to the time of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.

The Gospel of Mark:

The Gospel of Mark Mark’s Gospel is: The earliest narrative gospel The first gospel to create a unified story of Jesus's adult life. (The Gospel of Thomas was written earlier, but it is a collection of sayings, not a narrative story.)

Matthew and Luke:

Matthew and Luke Both authors knew Mark’s story. They also knew the sayings source, Q Each wanted to write his own story, including: Mark’s story Q sayings their own material The authors of the gospels of Matthew and Luke had something else to say , beyond retelling Mark’s story!

Gospel parallels:

Gospel parallels To learn more, look at the synoptic gospels side-by-side or in “parallel” Scholars have already arranged the gospels in parallel to make your analysis easier

How to use a synopsis (Also called a "parallels"):

How to use a synopsis (Also called a "parallels") You can find a gospel synopsis or parallels in book form and also online. Check the External Links on the course site for online sources of gospel parallels. Look up any passage in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, to compare their similarities and differences

Try it!:

Try it! On the course site, go to External Links , then Gospel Parallels , then Parallels Chart You will see a chart of 18 sections of synoptic gospel material, from #1 Preface to #18 Endings of the gospels . If you click on any of the 18 sections, you get a list of the gospel passages pertaining to that section.

A passage from Mark:

A passage from Mark Click on #9, The Way to the Cross . Notice that most of this section appears in all 3 synoptic gospels. This material comes from Mark 8-9 The authors of Matthew and Luke used this material from Mark in their stories.

A Passage from Matthew:

A Passage from Matthew Click on section #2, Birth and Childhood . Notice that only Matthew includes episode #10, The Flight into Egypt and Return (Matt 2:13-21).

A Passage from Luke:

A Passage from Luke Still in section #2, Birth and Childhood , Notice that only Luke includes episodes #2-5, concerning the birth of John the Baptist and Mary's visit to Elizabeth (Luke 1:5-80).

A passage from Q:

A passage from Q Click on section #6 The Sermon on the Mount . Notice that most of this material shows up in Matthew and Luke , but not in Mark. Section #7 The Sermon on the Plain shows some of this material as it is arranged in Luke.

Interpreting a synopsis:

Interpreting a synopsis When all three gospels contain the same episode, it usually comes from the Gospel of Mark. Sometimes Matthew or Luke change the story Changes can be short or long Even small changes can be significant

PowerPoint Presentation:

We can learn a lot by looking at just the changes made by Matthew or Luke. (Usually all the changes or additions to a story made by one single author have important things in common.)

Only in Matthew::

Only in Matthew: Joseph’s dream (1:18-25) Adoration of the magi (2:1-12) Flight into Egypt (2:13-21) The Great Commission (28:16-20)

How Matthew changes Mark’s story::

How Matthew changes Mark’s story: Adds the parable of the weeds and wheat (18:24-30) to Mark’s parable of the sower Lengthens the woes to the scribes and the Pharisees by more than 30 verses (Mk 12:37b-40; Mt 23:1-36; 20:45-47) Adds to the condemnation of Jesus a shout from the Jewish people: “His blood be on us and on our children!” (27:25)

PowerPoint Presentation:

Showing the rejection of Jesus by Jews, and pointing disciples beyond Judaism to the gentiles, is a very important message for the author of Matthew’s gospel.

Only in Luke::

Only in Luke: Frequent references to Roman rulers (1:5, 2:1, 3:1, 3:19, 8:3, 9:7, 13:31, 23:6, 23:7-15) Annunciation by an angel and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (1:5-80) Adoration of Jesus by angels and shepherds (2:8-20) Jesus’ ascension into heaven (24:44-53)

PowerPoint Presentation:

These passages present Jesus as an exalted figure, destined for greatness. Like the Roman emperor, Luke’s Jesus is elevated like a god into heaven after death.

How Luke changes Mark’s story:

How Luke changes Mark’s story Luke expands Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem into a connected story that lasts for nine chapters (9:51-18-14). Luke adds the journey to Emmaus (24:13-43) to Mark’s story of the women at the tomb These journeys anticipate the apostolic journeys in the Acts of the Apostles (also written by the author of Luke’s gospel).

PowerPoint Presentation:

Characterizing Jesus as a kind of emperor and situating Jesus’ followers in the context of the Roman empire is a very important message for the author of Luke’s gospel.

Do all the gospels tell the same story?:

Do all the gospels tell the same story? YES All three gospels use the Gospel of Mark to organize their story NO Each gospel also contains added material All three gospels begin and end differently The gospels were written for different audiences

Why do we have multiple gospels?:

Why do we have multiple gospels? The authors of the gospels of Matthew and Luke already knew Mark’s gospel. If the three synoptic gospels all told the same story, there would be no reason for the authors of Matthew and Luke to write their gospels.

Different gospels, different stories:

Different gospels, different stories Even though all three synoptic gospels follow the story line from the gospel of Mark, each gospel makes a different overall point. This is what we would expect of authors writing in different times and places, for different audiences.

Analytical study of the gospels:

Analytical study of the gospels Scholars look at the similarities among the synoptic gospels to understand their "literary relationships" (to see if one author incorporated material from another author's manuscript). Scholars look at the differences between the synoptic gospels to understand the unique concerns of each different story.

As you read the gospels …:

As you read the gospels … Make a list of unique features for each gospel When Luke and Matthew both use Mark's material, how do they modify it? When any of the evangelists speaks alone, what kinds of things do they write?

Picture credits:

Picture credits Magnifying glass Codex Vaticanus Mark Manuscript Pen writing

Picture credits:

Picture credits Picasso crucifixion Gospel parallels Flight into Egypt Ascension -

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