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Synoptic Gospels

Synoptic Gospels (sĭnŏpˈtĭk) [key] [Gr. synopsis = view together], the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), considered as a unit. They bear greater similarity to each other than any of them does to John, which differs from them also in purpose. The question of the relations between the three is called the Synoptic problem. 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 (notably the Beatitudes); to explain this agreement, scholars assume that there was a primitive document, which they call Q. It consisted largely of sayings of Jesus and was circulated in forms varying from place to place. Matthew and Luke are said to have used different versions of Q. This leaves a good third each in Matthew and Luke that cannot be explained by a common origin; there is no one widely accepted theory on the source or sources for these portions. The traditional Roman Catholic view is that Matthew (in an Aramaic version) preceded Mark and Luke, but that Matthew's Greek translation of his Aramaic Gospel may have come after Mark and Luke.

See R. K. Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition (tr. rev. ed. 1968); R. C. Briggs, Interpreting the Gospels (1969).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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