The Bible’s four gospels paint four portraits of Jesus. While every gospel complies with him ~ above the very same journey, castle recount the a tiny differently. They had actually their own methods, styles, purposes, audiences, and (probably) sources—making each portrait of Jesus uniquely valuable.

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Despite their distinct qualities, the first three gospels—Matthew, Mark, and also Luke—share plenty of of the same accounts the Christ, often shared in the exact same order and with the same wording. Since of their similar perspectives top top Jesus" ministry, together they’re known as the synoptic gospels. (The word “synoptic” originates from the Greek word synoptikos, definition “able to be seen together.”)

While the differences between the gospels have the right to be a difficulty for us, these similarities can be problematic, too. The parallel passages between the synoptic gospels have left scholars with pressing questions around their origins. If Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote around Jesus’ life and also ministry from different perspectives, why room they so similar? If four world witnessed a automobile accident or a parade, you will do it probably have actually loosely comparable timelines, but far-reaching variations in how they remember dialogue, what details castle recall or omit, and how they define it all. However these three gospels room remarkably similar. Exactly how did the happen?

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

The synoptic problem

Looking at parallel passages, it’s tough to imagine the Matthew, Mark, and also Luke nothing share a resource or resources of part kind. Those unclear is whether or not one or much more of the gospels served as a resource for the others.

For example, take it a look at this passages whereby Jesus interacts with small children:

Matthew 19:13–14Mark 10:13–14Luke 18:15–16
“Then tiny children were lugged to Jesus for him to location his hands on them and pray for them. Yet the practical worker rebuked those who lugged them. Jesus said, ‘Let the small children involved me, and also do no hinder them, for the kingdom of sky belongs to such together these.’ ”“People to be bringing little children to Jesus to have actually him touch them, yet the hands-on worker rebuked them. As soon as Jesus observed this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the tiny children involved me, and also do not hinder them, because that the kingdom the God belongs to such as these.’ ”“People were additionally bringing babies to Jesus to have actually him touch them. As soon as the disciples witnessed this, castle rebuked them. But Jesus called the kids to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom the God belongs come such as these.’ ”

The quote from Jesus is similar in all three passages, and the text leading approximately the quote has slightly various wording, yet basically claims the exact same thing. Matthew to add that world wanted Jesus to pray because that the children. And also the gospels are full of passages prefer these.

So how do we know what’s keep going here?

Two crucial questions we must answer

The gospels nothing come with a “works cited” page. We don’t have actually a thorough list of resources to cross-examine. Come answer the synoptic problem, scholar mostly need to work from the gospels themselves.

While that method solutions come the synoptic problem rely heavily on speculation, yes a lot we deserve to deduce from the info we have, and many brilliant world have arrived on the very same handful of conclusions.

There space two concerns the synoptic problem obstacles us to answer:

1. Go the synoptic gospel writers use each various other as sources? yes a clear overlap in material, however the gospels could have shared an additional source—some combination of written and also oral—to develop such comparable writings. If we decide that one or an ext of the gospels was a source for the others, this leads us to a more complicated question:

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

5 indications the synoptic gospel writers supplied each other as sources

While part scholars believe each the the gospels to be written completely independently that the others, several very unlikely coincidences make the pretty tough to accept. This is why most scholars think one or much more of the gospel writers supplied the others together sources:

1. So much usual material

The Gospel of man isn’t among the synoptic gospels due to the fact that it was clearly written independently. Over 90% that the book of john is unique, the is, the book’s material is not uncovered in any type of of the other three gospels.

If the synoptic gospels were composed independently, we’d suppose a far-reaching portion the those gospels come be unique as well. However, end 90% of Mark shows up in either Matthew or Luke, and in many instances the wording is the same or proper different.

2. So much verbal agreement

While it’s totally possible the the hands-on worker memorized the exact words of Jesus, price quotes alone can’t account because that the comparable wording in the synoptic gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke contain entire sentences that room the exact same word for word, even in stare material.

These countless instances of specific matches appears to imply that the writers operated from the exact same written material—if castle separately operated through oral product years apart, that unlikely that they would have all kept these account of Christ verbatim.

3. So much covenant in order

It’s not simply the an exact wording the parallel passages the raises eyebrows. While several of these passages show up to take place at various times in different gospels, there are many instances whereby the gospel authors presented accounts of Jesus in the same order—even once they don’t appear to be record the chronological stimulate of events. towards the start of Jesus" ministry, the gospels all current the following occasions in the very same order:

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

While you’ll discover some distinct accounts in between, these passages are never rearranged in any type of of the synoptic gospels. So currently we have actually much the the same material worded the same means and showing up in the exact same order. The gospel writers certainly aren’t copying everything from each other, however these similarities suggest that every gospel writer is illustration from typical material.

4. Agreements in comments and also asides

If you and also a friend were to tell the exact same story indigenous your very own perspective, what are the opportunities you’d both choose the same moment to administer commentary? The authors of the synoptic gospels generally follow the same patterns in their narratives, pausing because that parenthetical statements in the same places. Take a watch at wherein 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 the you may recognize that the child of Man has actually authority on earth to forgive sins....’ Then he said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, take her mat and also go home.’ ”“ ‘But that you may understand that the boy of Man has actually authority on earth to pardon sins....’ He stated to the paralytic, ‘I call you, acquire up, take her mat and also go home.’ ”“ ‘But the you may know that the son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins....’ He said to the paralyzed man, ‘I call you, acquire up, take your mat and also go home.’ ”

Even as soon as the wording isn’t exactly the same, the writers choose the same avenues to include narrative asides. You can see this in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, note 5:8 and Luke 8:29, and also Matthew 27:18 and Mark 15:10.

So is this a coincidence? no likely. If a writer has details to add to the story, lock could pick any number of places to include that information. The chances that all three writers would occur to pick the same locations to include the same details—without using among the other writers as a model—are quite small. Add that come the fact that many of this same occasions are tape-recorded with the same (or similar) wording in the exact same order, and also you’ve got a pretty great case for one of these 3 gospels influencing the various other two.

Now this is the kicker:

5. Similar alterations the the exact same Old testimony quotes

When Matthew, Mark, and also Luke present John the Baptist, all three of castle quote Isaiah 40:3 indigenous the Septuagint, which consists of the expression “make straight paths for our God.” All 3 synoptic gospels do the specific same change to the phrase, transforming it to “make straight courses for him.”

Matthew 3:3Mark 1:2–3Luke 3:4
“This is he who was spoken of v the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice that 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 the one calling in the desert, “Prepare the means for the Lord, make straight courses for him.” ’ ”“As is composed in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one phone call in the desert, “Prepare the means for the Lord, make straight courses for him.” ’ ”

It’s pretty hard to argue the all three writers make the same alters to the same Old testimony quote in the same context fully independently. At some suggest you need to ask, how many coincidences walk it take to equal proof? as soon as the same material is mutual with the very same words, in the same order, v 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 m sorry is it?

The first solution come the synoptic problem was proposed much more than a millennium ago, as soon as St. Augustine that Hippo first noticed the signs saying the gospels weren’t composed independently.


While various other Markan priority theories exist, most contemporary New testament scholars support some kind of the four-source theory. In spite of the absence of physics evidence, the literary proof in the messages themselves renders a solid case that the gospel authors had extr sources, either text-based or oral.

Doesn’t magnificent inspiration deal with the problem?

You can be wondering in all of this, “What around the holy Spirit?”

Couldn’t God give certain insights to each writer? Why does the synoptic problem have to be answered v evidence, not just inspiration?

Answering the synoptic problem with the divine Spirit actually forces us to overlook some that the evidence for interdependent gospels—evidence the God contained in His divinely-inspired Word.

For example, Luke explicitly tells united state he offered sources (Luke 1:1-4). Acknowledging and investigating this doesn’t threaten the Bible’s magnificent authority and also inspiration. It helps us trace the route of oh my god inspiration. We have to ask, “What walk the divine Spirit use to accumulate the gospel writers?”

The beginning of the synoptic gospels and their relationship to every other have actually been the topic of study for centuries, and also we tho don’t have actually a definitive answer come the synoptic problem. When the bulk of scholar rally behind some version of Markan priority, the dispute can only deal in the realm of theory.

This no to say that we have the right to simply shrug at the similarities and also differences in between the gospels. Yes textual evidence that support the presence of “Q,” even if we never discover physical, composed documents.

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Ancient cultures placed a the majority of weight on dental tradition, sometimes considering a personal account happen on with word-of-mouth come be much more accurate than composed sources. The beforehand church father Papias once said, “For ns did not suppose that information from publications would aid me so much as the word of a living and also surviving voice.”

The closest we may ever get to the beginnings of the synoptic gospels may really well be the opening lines of Luke:

Many have undertaken to attract up one account that the points that have actually been fulfilled amongst us, simply as they were handed down to us by those who from the an initial were eyewitnesses and also servants of the word. With this in mind, due to the fact that I myself have closely investigated everything from the beginning, ns too made decision to compose an orderly account because that you, most wonderful Theophilus, so the you may recognize the certainty the the points you have been taught.” —Luke 1:1–4 (emphasis added)

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