A New Solution to the Synoptic Problem

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Although the many similarities among the synoptic Gospels suggest an interdependence, there are also differences. According to Luke 4:22, after Jesus spoke in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth the people said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” According to Mark 6:3, they said, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary...?” However, Matthew 13:55 recounts, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary?”

Revised: 29-Oct-2012

The word “synoptic” is derived from συνόψεσθαι (synopsesthai), a Greek word meaning “to view together.” The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are known as the synoptic Gospels because they present a similar view of the same series of events—the deeds and sayings of Jesus of Nazareth.

The synoptic Gospels date from the first century A.D. and were composed in Greek, although the syntax and vocabulary of the texts suggest that the material originally existed in written form in either Hebrew or Aramaic. To date, scholars have collated more than 1,000 Greek manuscripts containing portions of one or more of the synoptic Gospels.

None of the synoptic Gospels gives the name of its author. The attribution of authorship to Matthew, Mark and Luke is a Christian tradition dating to the late second century A.D. The first Gospel may have been ascribed to Matthew because of the tradition that the disciple Matthew wrote a gospel in Hebrew which was translated to Greek. For example, Papias, the bishop of Hierapolis in Asia Minor during the mid-second century A.D., wrote that “Matthew put down the words of the Lord in the Hebrew language, and others have translated them, each as best he could” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History III 39, 16).

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This article originally appeared in issue 32 of the Jerusalem Perspective magazine. Click on the image above to view a PDF of the original magazine article.

  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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