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Synoptic Tales From Here and Beyond

synoptic tales

             For many years, I have read the first three books of the New Testament section of the bible (Mathew, Mark, Luke)  and many a times I have asked myself  which was the proper account or most accurate account of the life of the messiah Yeshua(Greek - Jesus)? I’m sure you must have too. But in the quest for the answer, I find myself asking a bigger  question:  Who wrote the books of Mathew, Mark and Luke ? You may say, that’s easy. Its Mathew, Mark and Luke! Well, I thought so too.                   Just then another question pops up : Why are they so similar? Its highly unlikely for three different people, from different backgrounds and orientations with different modes of expression , to write an account about someone using almost the same words (in some cases word for word), following the same order and sequence . well, as usual I decided to find out for myself and thus birthing this piece. I do not promise you the answers to all your questions. But, a possible reason why are so.

The Word Synoptic is from two greek words : Syn (Together) and Optic(Seen) , which means Seeing Together. These gospels were called Synoptic because they include many of the same accounts, mostly in a similar pattern and in similar wording. But before we go into similarities and differences lets get a little glimpse of who these said men actually were.


painting of mathew by Frans Hals

Matthew was a 1st-century Galilean (supposedly born in Galilee, which was not part of Judea or the Roman Iudaea province), the son of Alpheus. During the Roman occupation, He was a tax collector for Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. His tax office was located in Capernaum.It is assumed that being a tax collector he would have been literate in Aramaic(The jewish language) and Greek.

It was in this setting, that Jesus (Yeshua) called Matthew to be one of the Twelve Disciples. After his call, Matthew invited Jesus home for a feast. The New Testament records that as a disciple, he followed Jesus, and was one of the witnesses of the Resurrection and the Ascension.

In the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 43a) "Mattai" is one of five disciples of "Jeshu."

Later Church fathers such as Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3.1.1) and Clement of Alexandria claim that Matthew preached the Gospel to the Jewish community in Judea, before going to other countries. Ancient writers are not agreed as to what these other countries are. The Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church each hold the tradition that Matthew died as a martyr


painting of mark

Mark  (Latin: Mārcus; Greek: Μᾶρκος; Coptic: Μαρκοϲ; Hebrew: מרקוס‎) is traditionally held to be the author of the Gospel of Mark.

According to William Lane (1974), an "unbroken tradition" identifies Mark the Evangelist with John Mark, and John Mark as the cousin of Barnabas.
 He was a companion of paul and also worked with peter. He left for Alexandria in the third year of Claudius .
 Later Coptic tradition says that he was martyred in 68



Luke (Ancient Greek: Λουκᾶς, Loukás) was a native of the Hellenistic city of Antioch in Syria. He has been ascribed the authorship of both the Gospel according to Luke and Acts of the Apostles, which originally formed a single literary work, by earlier church fathers. In the New Testament, Luke is mentioned briefly a few times, and referred to as a doctor in the Pauline epistle to the Colossians; thus he is thought to have been both a physician and a disciple of Paul.  He is believed to have died a martyr, although accounts of the events do vary.

It is generally assumed that:

•   Mathew was the first to be written, followed by mark and luke
•   Mathew , mark and luke wrote are the authors
•   Luke and mark were third person accounts while Mathew was an eye witness
•   Mark got his account from peter, while luke from paul

•   No original copies of the gospels have been found
•    Luke is the only gentile writer among them
•   They were all written in Greek
•   None of the gospels gives the identity of their author


Almost all of Mark's writings is found in Matthew , and much of Mark is similarly found in Luke. Also, Matthew and Luke have a large amount of material in common that is not found in Mark.

synoptic gospel relationship

Order and Date

         It is clear that of the three synoptics, Mark was the first one to be written, for the others relied so heavily on texts from Mark's gospel, meaning Mark's text must have been written long before theirs. Mathew was written next followed by Luke. We may not be able to deduce the exact date these three books were written The essential thing is that the 3 Gospels were probably written and published before the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem (A.D. 70) for none of them gave any information as regarding the fulfilment of this prophesy which Jesus gave(Matthew 24:1-2,Mar 13:2, Luke 21:6,Luke 21:24) . There is nothing in their contents that makes this view untenable. Meaning that at the time of their writing , these events are yet to occur occurred. I believe mark's gospel was written early, before A.D. 50 , while Matthew between 55 and  A.D. 59.  Luke's gospel is a two volume book which includes the book of Acts and Acts was written while Paul was still alive, plus the fact that Acts does not include the accounts of Nero's persecution of the Christians in A.D. 64 or the deaths of Paul (A.D. 64), and Peter (A.D. 65), i would say that it was written about A.D. 62


 The accounts of Matthew , Mark and Luke are not eye witness accounts of the Life of the messiah as against that of John. But you may say what about Matthew! wasnt Matthew a disciple and an eye witness? Well, The style and language of the gospel do not suggest that.
 The account of Matthew relies so heavily on Mark's text, it seems unlikely that Matthew the Apostle was its author. Would an eyewitness need to borrow to tell his story? The composer of Matthew was probably a Jewish Christian who aimed his story at a Jewish audience considering the claims of Christianity.  Unlike  Luke who in his genealogy of Christ goes back to God,  Matthew goes no further back than Abraham (1:1-2). From the outset Matthew shows us in Jesus the son par excellence of Abraham and David - the Messias in Whom were fulfilled the prophetic oracles. Writing primarily for members of the chosen race, he does not explain such Jewish terms as "raca" ("fool") (5:22), "carbona" (27:6), etc. Matthew does not explain as Luke does - Israeli geographical terms, but simply speaks of Christ's "own city" and "own country" (9:1; 13:54). He repeatedly dwells on our Lord's denunciations of the Pharisees and of the Jewish leaders (ch. 12, 16, 22, 23).


         Internal evidence shows that  Mark’s Gospel was written for Gentiles, especially for Roman Gentile converts. The Gospel quotes but seldom from the Old Testament ( 1:2, 3; 15:28), since an appeal to the prophets would have been meaningless to the Romans. So, too, the title "Son of David" is rarely applied to Yeshua(Jesus). Comparisons between the Old and the New Law - which form so striking a feature in the Sermon on the Mount are also missing. On the other hand, Mark’s gospel is careful to explain Jewish rites and customs which might prove unintelligible to a gentile reader, as, for example, the purifications (7:3), the passover (14:12), the day of preparation (15:42). He explains words and expressions which Gentile converts would not be likely to understand; for example: "Boanerges" (3:17), "Talitha cumi" (5:41), "Ephpheta" (7:34), "Corban" (7:11), "Bartimaeus" (10:46), "Two mites" (12:42). 
             So, did the said John mark write the gospel that bears his name? The gospel doesn’t tell us! surely, the writer was influenced by an apostle/apostles. But who this writer was, and the said apostle/apostles were , we are not told. If the original manuscripts do not say it was written by Mark, why should men allude the gospel to him?  They call the gospel Peter’s gospel in the writings of mark, But if mark indeed wrote the gospel he could as well been influenced by other apostles asides Peter, though he was a companion of Peter(I Pt.5:13). He was also a cousin of Barnabas (Col.4:10).
           The book of Acts mentions Mark to be in the company of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:25) and was even the subject of contention between them(Acts 15:39).  For you to suggest that his narrative style matches that of an uneducated fisherman is not enough to conclude they were from the lips of Peter. Though, external evidence from the works of  Papias of Hieropolis ,historian Eusebius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen attest to Mark’s authorship, the bible(new testament) keeps the authorship anonymous. Though the person of Mark or Marcous is mentioned, his authorship of any gospel is not suggested in any way.


      Like the other synoptic gospels,the Gospel of Luke is anonymous. There is no internal, direct evidence for determining the authorship of the Gospel of Luke. Judging from the quality of the Greek, the author had a thorough Hellenistic education. The literary quality of the Greek of the Gospel of Luke varies, perhaps depending on the author's sources, but in some places it imitates classical Greek ( Luke 1:1-4) . it is possible to compile a list of candidates for authorship of the Gospel of Luke on the assumption that the author of the Book of Acts is the same as the author of the Gospel of Luke. 
        There are three "we-sections" in the Book of Acts, in which the author describes events in the first person plural; this implies that the author was a participant in the events being related. In particular, the author appears to have been a companion and co-worker of the apostle Paul, because the "we-sections" occur in descriptions of events that occur during Paul’s travels:
  1.   From Troas to Neapolis (16:10-17); 
  2. From Philippi to Caesarea Maritima (20:5-21:18); 
  3. From Caesarea Maritima to Italy (27:1-28:16).                                                   
            By a process of elimination, from two of the"we-sections" and other references in the New Testament, it is possible to infer that Luke was one possible author of the Gospel of Luke. Beginning in Acts 16:10, the author of the Book of Acts includes himself in the narrative, as indicated by his switch to the first-person plural from the third person.  (Presumably, the author first joined up with Paul in Troas.)  Leaving Troas with Paul, he traveled with him to Samothrace, to Neapolis and then to Philippi (Acts 16:11-12).
            It seems that Paul then left the author in Philippi, because the author reverts to the third person in describing Paul's activities upon leaving Philippi ( Acts 17:1). While the author was in Philippi, Paul traveled to Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and then returned to Antioch (Acts 17:1-18:22).  Paul next went to Ephesus, where he stayed for three years ( Acts 20:31); he then travelled to Macedonia, spent three months in Greece, went back to Macedonia and then to Troas in Mysia. 
             At this point, the author reappears in the narrative, again as indicated by the fact that he uses the first-person plural. While Paul and his entourage waited for them, the author and some other unidentified people traveled from Philippi (Acts 20:4-6) to Troas . From these we can deduce that The author of the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke was not Sopater, son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, Tychicus and Trophimus .   "And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus." (Acts 20:4) . It is possible to compile a complete list of Paul's associates, one of them not listed in Acts 20:4 must be the author of the Book of Acts and the Gospel of Luke.

          Assuming that these references in conjunction with those in Acts 20:4 represent all of Paul's associates, we can find out the possible candidates for the book of acts?
They are: (John) Mark, Epaphras, Demas, Jesus who is called Justus, Luke, Titus, Barnabas, Aquila/Priscilla, Artemas or Erastus. But several of these can be eliminated because they are referred to in the third person in the Book of Acts, whereas Luke refers to himself in the first person (albeit in the first person plural). Those who must be eliminated for this reason include: (John) Mark (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37, 39), Barnabas (Acts 4:36, 9:27; 11, 12, 13, 14, 15), Aquila/Priscilla (Acts 18) and Erastus (Acts 19:22). This leaves Epaphras, Demas, Jesus who is called Justus, Luke, Titus and Artemas.  
         So the book of Luke could have been written by either Epaphras, Demas, Justus, Luke, Titus and Artemas But, From these 6 candidates, external, direct evidence from the works of The Muratorian canon, Irenaeus, Tertullian, The Anti-Marcion Prologue, the Bodmer Papyrus XIV points only to Luke to be the writer of the gospel that bears his name.  (Remember that Luke is one of the possible authors, inferred from the internal evidence.)

 Taking both the internal and external evidence into account, It is reasonable to conclude that the Luke was the author of the Gospel of Luke.

Solving The Synoptic Problem

        The synoptic problem has given a lot of unrest to bible scholars and even raised more doubts in critics as to the authenticity of the bible over the years. The whys, whens, whats and hows of the gospel seam not to have any answer. The reason  there is so much dust raised over this is because they fail to see it together. 
     The key to solving this problem is by applying Synoptic philosophy.  Synoptic philosophy sets out to see everything and see it as a whole. It is an attempt to view everything in the largest possible way. These gospels are actually one gospel in three variants . Until you begin to see them as such, you will never appreciate the message each account carries. Until you place them side by side and see them as truly one account the synoptic problem with continue to overwhelm you. You can never fully understand Matthew without having a hint from Mark. Luke is incomplete without Matthew. Each gospel complements the other, The grey areas in one is explained by the other. 
          Ultimately, the explanation as to why the Synoptic Gospels are so similar is that they are all inspired by the same Holy Spirit. The primary goal was to give an account of the life of Yeshua(Jesus) of Nazareth. They are a testimony of the man Yeshua(Jesus) , the son of David,  who was proved to be the Son of God by the resurrection of the dead. It is a testimony of his birth, life, passion, death,resurrection and ascension to glory. A testimony that he is still alive and will return very soon.  Selah
                                               By  The Illuminator
Ps: i want to specially thank +Prince Xavier for giving me the opportunity to express my thoughts through this medium and use this opportunity to wish him a very joyous Birthday(He would be a year older on the 1st of Jan. Happy Birthday X!

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