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New Testament Survey

The Synoptic Problem


The Synoptic Problem

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the “Synoptic” Gospels. This term means “seeing together” or “having a common view.” The reason for this description is that each presents much of the same material as the others. The approach of each writer, although to a different audience and for a different purpose, is much the same. A reading of John’s Gospel will show why it is viewed differently from the other three.

Since the three Gospels are similar, scholars over the ages have developed a long winded discussion usually referred to as the “Synoptic problem.” It should be noted that much of the “research” arises from those who, at best, can be labeled skeptics. The issue reduces itself to a simple question. If the authors are all writing about the same Person and the same events, why are there differences in the presentations? What sources did they use to provide the details of the individual presentations? The discussions all assume some type of literary dependence between Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

Several “solutions” have been proposed.

Before one worries too much about this problem, one must first reflect upon the reasons behind each Gospel. Then one must remember that each was written by or at the hand of an apostle. Lastly, one must remember that the Holy Spirit guided each writer. When viewed in this perspective, the seeming problems slowly dissolve and disappear.


A Comparison of the Four Gospels
Christ viewed as King Servant Man God
Written to Jews Romans Greeks Church
Number of chapters 28 16 24 21
Unique Material 42% 7% 59% 92%
OT Quotes 53 36 25 20



Is there a reason to worry about the “differences” in a given account in the Gospels?





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