The Bible’s 4 gospels paint 4 portraits of Jesus. While every gospel complies with him top top the very same journey, castle recount that a tiny differently. They had their very own methods, styles, purposes, audiences, and also (probably) sources—making every portrait the Jesus unique valuable.

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Despite their distinct qualities, the an initial three gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—share countless of the exact same accounts of Christ, frequently shared in the very same order and with the very same wording. Because of their similar perspectives on Jesus" ministry, with each other they’re recognized as the synoptic gospels. (The word “synoptic” originates from the Greek native synoptikos, an interpretation “able come be checked out together.”)

While the differences in between the gospels have the right to be a an obstacle for us, this similarities deserve to be problematic, too. The parallel passages between the synoptic gospels have left scholar with pressing questions about their origins. If Matthew, Mark, and also Luke wrote around Jesus’ life and also ministry from various perspectives, why are they for this reason similar? If four human being witnessed a auto accident or a parade, you will do it probably have loosely comparable timelines, but far-ranging variations in how they remember dialogue, what details they recall or omit, and also how they describe it all. However these three gospels are remarkably similar. Exactly how did the happen?

The uncertain relationship between the synoptic gospels is well-known as “the synoptic problem.”

The synoptic problem

Looking in ~ parallel passages, it’s tough to imagine that Matthew, Mark, and also Luke nothing share a source or resources of some kind. What’s unclear is even if it is or no one or more of the gospels served as a source for the others.

For example, take a look at these passages wherein Jesus interacts with tiny children:

Matthew 19:13–14Mark 10:13–14Luke 18:15–16
“Then small children were lugged to Jesus for him to place his hand on them and also pray for them. Yet the hands-on worker rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the small children involved me, and do no hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such together these.’ ”“People to be bringing little children come Jesus to have him touch them, but the practical worker rebuked them. When Jesus observed this, he to be indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children involved me, and also do no hinder them, because that the kingdom that God belongs come such as these.’ ”“People were additionally bringing babies to Jesus to have actually him touch them. Once the disciples saw this, lock rebuked them. But Jesus referred to as the youngsters to him and said, ‘Let the small children concerned me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom that God belongs come such as these.’ ”

The quote from Jesus is identical in all three passages, and the text leading approximately the quote has actually slightly various wording, however basically claims the very same thing. Matthew adds that people wanted Jesus to pray because that the children. And the gospels are full of passages prefer these.

So exactly how do we know what’s continue here?

Two an essential questions we should answer

The gospels nothing come through a “works cited” page. Us don’t have a detailed list of sources to cross-examine. To answer the synoptic problem, scholar mostly have to work native the gospels themselves.

While that method solutions come the synoptic difficulty rely greatly on speculation, there’s a lot we have the right to deduce indigenous the info we have, and many brilliant civilization have came down on the same handful the conclusions.

There are two concerns the synoptic problem difficulties us to answer:

1. Did the synoptic gospel writers use each other as sources? yes a clear overlap in material, but the gospels could have shared one more source—some mix of written and also oral—to create such similar writings. If we decide that one or much more of the gospels was a source for the others, this leads united state to a more facility question:

2. If so, which synoptic gospel was written first and which relied on the others? without the gospels’ initial manuscripts, we can’t just look in ~ the dates to determine which came first. We have to use literary clues to identify which gospel (or gospels) seem to exert the biggest influence on the others.

5 signs the synoptic gospel writers supplied each other as sources

While part scholars believe each of the gospels to be written fully independently of the others, several extremely unlikely coincidences make that pretty hard to accept. Here’s why most scholars think one or much more of the gospel writers provided the others as sources:

1. So much usual material

The Gospel of john isn’t among the synoptic gospels due to the fact that it was plainly written independently. End 90% that the book of john is unique, that is, the book’s product is not discovered in any of the other three gospels.

If the synoptic gospels were written independently, we’d intend a far-reaching portion that those gospels come be distinct as well. However, end 90% of Mark shows up in either Matthew or Luke, and in many situations the wording is the same or right different.

2. So much verbal agreement

While it’s fully possible the the practical worker memorized the precise words of Jesus, price quotes alone can not account for the similar wording in the synoptic gospels. Matthew, Mark, and also Luke contain whole sentences that room the very same word for word, also in rigid material.

These many instances of specific matches seems to indicate that the writers functioned from the very same written material—if lock separately worked through oral product years apart, that unlikely the they would have all kept these accounts of Christ verbatim.

3. So much covenant in order

It’s not simply the an accurate wording of parallel passages the raises eyebrows. While several of these passages appear to happen at various times in various gospels, over there are numerous instances whereby the gospel writers presented accounts of Jesus in the very same order—even as soon as they don’t appear to be recording the chronological order of events. in the direction of the start of Jesus" ministry, the gospels all current the following events in the same order:

Jesus heals the paralyzed male (Matthew 9:1–8, mark 2:1–12, Luke 5:17–26)Jesus eats through sinners and tax collectors (Matthew 9:9–13, mark 2:13–17, Luke 5:27–32)Jesus is questioned about fasting (Matthew 9:14–17, note 2:18–22, Luke 5:33–39)Jesus heals ~ above the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1–14, note 3:1–6, Luke 6:1–11)Paying taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:15–22, mark 12:13–17, Luke 20:20–26)Marriage at the resurrection (Matthew 22:23–33, mark 12:18–27, Luke 20:27–40)Whose child is the messiah? (Matthew 22:41–46, mark 12:35–37, Luke 20:41–44)Warning versus the teachers of the law (Matthew 23:1–12, mark 12:38–40, Luke 20:45–47)

While you’ll find some unique accounts in between, these passages are never ever rearranged in any kind of of the synoptic gospels. So now we have actually much that the same material worded the same method and appearing in the exact same order. The gospel writers absolutely aren’t copying every little thing from every other, yet these similarities suggest that each gospel writer is drawing from common material.

4. Agreements in comments and also asides

If you and also a friend were come tell the same story indigenous your own perspective, what room the possibilities you’d both pick the same moment to provide commentary? The writers of the synoptic gospels generally follow the very same patterns in their narratives, pausing for parenthetical declaration in the very same places. Take a look at whereby the writer division up Jesus" quote (which wake up to it is in a word-for-word quotation):

Matthew 9:6Mark 2:10–11Luke 5:24
“ ‘But so that you may know that the kid of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins....’ Then he stated to the paralytic, ‘Get up, take your mat and also go home.’ ”“ ‘But the you may understand that the kid of Man has authority on earth to pardon sins....’ He stated to the paralytic, ‘I call you, obtain up, take your mat and go home.’ ”“ ‘But that you may recognize that the son of Man has authority on planet to pardon sins....’ He said to the paralyzed man, ‘I phone call you, obtain up, take your mat and also go home.’ ”

Even when the wording isn’t exactly the same, the writers select the same opportunities to add narrative asides. You deserve to see this in Matthew 24:15 and also Mark 13:14, note 5:8 and Luke 8:29, and Matthew 27:18 and also Mark 15:10.

So is this a coincidence? no likely. If a writer has actually details to include to the story, lock could pick any variety of places to include that information. The possibilities that all three writers would take place to pick the same locations to add the very same details—without using among the other writers as a model—are quite small. Add that come the reality that countless of this same occasions are recorded with the same (or similar) wording in the very same order, and also you’ve obtained a pretty good case for one of these 3 gospels affecting the various other two.

Now here’s the kicker:

5. Identical alterations of the same Old testament quotes

When Matthew, Mark, and Luke introduce John the Baptist, all three of them quote Isaiah 40:3 native the Septuagint, which includes the phrase “make straight courses for our God.” All three synoptic gospels make the precise same alteration to the phrase, an altering it come “make straight paths for him.”

Matthew 3:3Mark 1:2–3Luke 3:4
“This is he who was spoken of v the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice the one call in the desert, “Prepare the means for the Lord, make straight courses for him.” ’ ”“It is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘... A voice of one phone call in the desert, “Prepare the method for the Lord, make straight routes for him.” ’ ”“As is composed in the publication of the indigenous of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice the one call in the desert, “Prepare the means for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” ’ ”

It’s pretty difficult to argue that all three writers made the same transforms to the very same Old testament quote in the exact same context completely independently. In ~ some point you have to ask, how countless coincidences does it require to equal proof? once the same material is mutual with the same words, in the very same order, through the same side comments, and also the same altered quotes, most scholars agree: one of these gospels was a resource for the others—so i beg your pardon is it?

The very first solution come the synoptic problem was proposed an ext than a millennium ago, as soon as St. Augustine the Hippo very first noticed the signs suggesting the gospels weren’t written independently.


While various other Markan priority theories exist, most modern New testament scholars support some type of the four-source theory. Regardless of the absence of physics evidence, the literary proof in the messages themselves provides a strong case that the gospel authors had extr sources, either text-based or oral.

Doesn’t magnificent inspiration fix the problem?

You might be wondering in every one of this, “What around the holy Spirit?”

Couldn’t God give particular insights to each writer? Why walk the synoptic trouble have to it is in answered with evidence, not simply inspiration?

Answering the synoptic problem with the holy Spirit actually pressures us to disregard some the the evidence for interdependent gospels—evidence the God had in His divinely-inspired Word.

For example, Luke clearly tells united state he used sources (Luke 1:1-4). Acknowledging and investigating this doesn’t weaken the Bible’s magnificent authority and inspiration. It help us map the path of god’s inspiration. We have to ask, “What did the divine Spirit use to inspire the gospel writers?”

The beginning of the synoptic gospels and also their relationships to each other have actually been the topic of research for centuries, and also we tho don’t have a definitive answer come the synoptic problem. While the majority of scholar rally behind some variation of Markan priority, the dispute can only deal in the realm of theory.

This isn’t to say the we have the right to simply shrug in ~ the similarities and also differences between the gospels. Yes textual evidence that supports the existence of “Q,” also if we never discover physical, composed documents.

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Ancient societies placed a many weight on oral tradition, sometimes considering a personal account pass on v word-of-mouth come be more accurate than composed sources. The early on church dad Papias once said, “For ns did not suppose that details from publications would aid me so lot as the word of a living and also surviving voice.”

The closest we may ever before get come the origins of the synoptic gospels may an extremely well be the opening lines the Luke:

Many have undertaken to draw up an account that the things that have actually been fulfilled amongst us, simply as they to be handed under to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants the the word. With this in mind, due to the fact that I myself have carefully investigated every little thing from the beginning, i too determined to write an orderly account for you, most wonderful Theophilus, so the you may recognize the certainty the the things you have been taught.” —Luke 1:1–4 (emphasis added)

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