What are the synoptic Gospels? Of what value are they in the account of the life of Jesus Christ? How do they help us know and believe our Savior?
Students of the Bible are well aware that there are four Gospels. Those four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—each provide different information about the life of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, three of the accounts are similar in their presentation; and one, the Gospel of John, is quite different from the other three.
Do the four Gospels contradict one another in their accounts of Jesus’ life? After all, four men wrote about Jesus, His teachings, His actions and His life on earth. It is important to know not only if they are accurate, but if they provide any help for human beings in the 21st century.
What are the synoptic Gospels?
The word synoptic is defined as “taking a common view: used chiefly in reference to the first three Gospels” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, 1991).
Merrill C. Tenney wrote the following regarding the synoptic Gospels: “Between the first three Gospels, however, there is a closer interrelation in content and manner of expression. They have consequently been called the Synoptic Gospels, from the Greek, syn, together, and optanomai, to see, since they take a common view of the life of Christ” (New Testament Survey, 1961, p. 133).
The three Gospels that “take a common view” of Christ’s life are Matthew, Mark and Luke. Each writer affords us a special look into the life and teachings of Christ in a different way. One may provide one detail, and another may provide a detail that adds to the account so that the Bible student is able to receive additional insights. These insights give a more complete picture of what Christ was teaching or give details of an event that help us have greater understanding of the heart and mind of Christ.
The synoptic Gospels do not contradict one another, but all three together provide a more complete account of Jesus’ life. The more information a Bible student is provided about Jesus, the more one has to understand and incorporate into one’s life.
Additional information regarding the synoptic Gospels
According to The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, “There is overlapping between the first three and the fourth gospels, especially in the passion story, but only about nine per cent of the material in the Synoptics coincides with material in the fourth. The coincidence of material as among the Synoptics is much higher. Approximately ninety-one per cent of Mark is paralleled in one of the other two gospels or in both. The same thing can be said of about fifty per cent of Matthew and about forty-one per cent of Luke” (1962, article “Synoptic Problem,” p. 492).
The truth of God’s inspired Word
Although three different men wrote the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and there are certain differences in what they wrote, there is a very important underlying law that governs the Bible. It is the most special Book ever written, and it is essential that every serious Bible student believe in how the Bible was written. There are no “conflicts” among the accounts in the synoptic Gospels and the book of John because God inspired them all. All apparent conflicts can be explained when one carefully considers the content and purpose of each writer.
We read in Paul’s second letter to Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, New Revised Standard Version). With that statement, the apostle Paul says that all Scripture in the Bible—the synoptic Gospels included—is needed for the spiritual growth and fulfillment of life’s purpose of anyone who “belongs to God.”
Therefore, for about 2,000 years the synoptic Gospels have played a very important role in adding to the understanding of Jesus Christ and the part He should play in the lives of human beings. The life of Jesus Christ and the words inspired by God to Matthew, Mark and Luke provide humans in the 21st century with eternal words from the Creator and Ruler of the universe.
The part that Jesus should have in the lives of all human beings cannot be overstated. The synoptic Gospels provide instruction, inspiration, encouragement and admonition regarding the most important life to ever be flesh and blood—Jesus Christ, the Son of God. According to Scripture, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NRSV).
The most important point about the synoptic Gospels
The most important point to be made regarding the synoptic Gospels or any other book of the Bible is this: God, through His Holy Spirit, inspired the Bible to be written through human instruments. The Bible is God’s instruction book to humanity in answering why human beings exist and giving us hope for the future. It provides us with what only God can do for us and what we have as a personal responsibility to do with His help through the Holy Spirit.
The synoptic Gospels provide humanity with a view of our Creator and Savior Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we have access to God the Father and the path to fulfilling our purpose in life. The synoptic Gospels are three books that provide valuable lessons and guides for us in our daily lives and in the way that leads to eternal life in God’s family. We encourage you to read and study them carefully and regularly.
For more study on this topic, see the article “Gospels.”