Synoptic Gospels

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Synoptic Gospels

(sĭnŏp`tĭk) [Gr. synopsis=view together], the first three GospelsGospel
[M.E.,=good news; evangel from Gr.,= good news], a written account of the life of Jesus. Though the Gospels of the New Testament are all anonymous, since the 2d cent. they have been named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
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 (MatthewMatthew, Gospel according to,
1st book of the New Testament. Scholars conjecture that it was written for the church at Antioch toward the end of the 1st cent. Traditonally regarded as the earliest Gospel, it is now generally accepted that it postdates the Gospel of St.
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, MarkMark, Gospel according to,
2d book of the New Testament. The shortest of the four Gospels and probably the earliest, it is usually thought to have been composed shortly before the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Tradition claims St. Mark as the author and St.
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, and LukeLuke, Gospel according to Saint,
third book of the New Testament. It was composed in the second half of the 1st cent. Since the 2d cent. it and the Acts of the Apostles have been ascribed to St. Luke; Acts is sometimes considered a sequel to the Gospel.
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), considered as a unit. They bear greater similarity to each other than any of them does to JohnJohn, Gospel according to Saint,
fourth book of the New Testament. This account of Jesus' life is clearly set off from the other three Gospels (see Synoptic Gospels), although it is probable that John knew and used both Mark and Luke as sources.
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, 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 BeatitudesBeatitudes
[Lat.,=blessing], in the Gospel of St. Matthew, eight blessings uttered by Jesus at the opening of the Sermon on the Mount. Some, counting verses differently, say there are nine. In a parallel passage in the Gospel of St.
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); 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.

Bibliography

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