Is there a Synoptic Problem?

Synoptic Problem MemeAs Craig Blomberg observes in his Jesus and the Gospels, “the vast majority of careful students of the Gospels” assume that there is some sort of literary relationship between the first three gospels (97). Usually this is described as the “Synoptic Problem,” but I wonder if it is really a “problem.”  Why do “careful students of the Gospels” agree on a literary relationship?

There are two main reasons for this decision.

1. Similarity in the Material of the Gospels.

The majority of the texts containing material in the Synoptic Gospels are similar. R. H. Stein identifies four areas of similarity:

  • Similar Wording.  In many of the synoptic parallels, there is often a nearly exact similarity of words in parallel passages. Even where the order of the words differ, the same words are often used (Matt 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17; Matt 24:4-8, Mark 13:5-8, Luke 21:8-11).
  • Similar Order of Events.  The general outline of the three synoptic gospels is identical. While a few events are in a different order, the general outline is the same. Note the order of the events in Matthew 16:13-20:34, Mark 8:27-10:52, and Luke 9:1-18 / 18:15-43.
  • Identical Parenthetical Material.  In Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 there appear to be words added by the author as an aside to the words of Jesus.  This verse is the most impressive evidence for some sort of literary dependence. The words, “let the reader understand” are repeated verbatim in both Mark and Matthew, imply that one of the writers used the other as a source for the sayings, or that a third source lies in the background.
  • Similar Biblical Quotations.  In the case of Biblical Quotations the texts match up between the Synoptic Gospels, but are not based on the LXX or any known Old Testament text.  In Mark 1:2, Matthew 3:3, Luke 3:4, there is a quotation of the prophet Isaiah that does not conform to either the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) and the Hebrew Bible.

2. Apparent Contradictions in the Material of the Gospels.

There are a few sections of the synoptic gospels which are described singular events, yet vary in significant details. The baptism of Jesus is an example of a problem passage where one of the gospel writers appears to have changed the one of the others. In Mark 1:10 and Luke 3:22 the voice from Heaven addresses Jesus saying “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”  But in Matthew 3:17 the voice addresses John the Baptist (or the crowd) saying “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  Clearly this is a singular event, only occurring one time in Jesus ministry.  How are we to account for this apparent change by Matthew?

Examples of both categories could be multiplied, although there are not as many apparent contradictions as there are agreements. From these observations is seems obvious that the writers of the synoptic Gospels drew on similar resources but were free to use those resources creatively.  All three know the story of the baptism of Jesus, Matthew was able to report the words from Heaven differently for some reason.

For me, the reason that Matthew is different is interesting. For example, if he was working with a copy of Mark, what motivated him to include Peter getting out of the boat (Matt 14:28-30)?

Is there really a Synoptic Problem?

Perhaps it sounds trite, but I do not see a problem as much as I see an opportunity. We have three creative, theological minds (Matthew Mark and Luke) presenting their understanding of the events of Jesus’ life and teaching. That the vary tells me that there was no single authoritative document which told the story of Jesus until these three gospels were complete. But that they are so similar tells me that there was little tolerance for creation of stories and sayings of Jesus. In fact, there are very good reasons to devote some energy toward the synoptic problem.

It is true that Matthew has stories which are unique, or Luke has parables which do not appear in Matthew.  But for the most part, the Synoptic Problem is not that these are three different gospels, but rather that these are three similar gospels, written within a short time of each other.


Bibliography:  R. H. Stein, “Synoptic Problem,”  in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (ed. Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight;  Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 784-85.

54 thoughts on “Is there a Synoptic Problem?

  1. I don’t believe there is a problem. All three authors are telling the story of Jesus with slightly different purposes- to present Christ in a different thematic way. The same Holy Spirit inspired all three synoptic gospels. I think the virtual number of synoptic gospels that could have been written is much higher. Alas, the Holy Spirit only inspired three synoptic gospels. But if there was a fourth synoptic gospel much of the same would be said about that gospel as well. The way the gospel was orally passed on may have been much like see in the NT. The person sharing the gospel would tailor it to who was being told to in some respects. I never tell the same story exactly the same way. But each time I share a true story it is still true.

  2. Dear Philip,

    I guess the term “problem” attaches to our desire to determine what order they were written in. Which at this point is still not known.

    In many ways, having attached names to these anonymous works has caused more of a problem. By attaching names to these anonymous works we tend to concentrate on making up biographies of the anonymous writers. This is bound to end it useless speculation.

    The real opportunity is start to think of the “patristic” period which at least we have some data for, instead of the more mythical jesus and apostolic periods. By concentrating on the apostolic period, which is when these texts were adjusted and put in the forms that we have them, we can understand WHY these texts were altered, and the arguments that the fathers were taking, and the positions they were staking out.

    In this way, we have a chance of understanding the formation of christianity better, rather than trying to examine only the mythical jesus and apostolic periods.

    I encourage any that are interested in this kind of thing to contact me for further and on ging discussions.


  3. “The real opportunity is start to think of the “patristic” period which at least we have some data for”

    This is interesting, since i have always thought that the apocryphal gospels were a good source of contrast. By in large they are all clearly late (as opposed to the synoptic gospels which are written within a generation of Jesus). Seems to me these is a trajectory from event (what really happened) to the event in an oral tradition, to the event as recorded by Mt, Mk, and Lk. In the patristics, you do not get events as much as sayings (Didache, for example, has sayings from Matthew or Q, whichever you prefer). In the later apocGospels, there are stories, but frequently they are fanciful and theologically driven (putting later theology in the mouth of Jesus, etc.)

    By comparison, the canonical gospels are pretty tame. “Creation” of stories, if that actually happened, are far less fanciful and the earliest controversies simply do not appear int he mouth of Jesus.

    How do you see the patristics helping with Historical Jesus research? Or would you rather skip HJ research altogether?

  4. I think as Schweitzer showed historical jesus research is not possible. We don’t have any data on jesus. we can’t determine if he was a real or legendary character. Our gospels are all anonymous, and we have no idea who wrote them. They were changed by later writers. We have no actual data about jesus, or even the apostles. Only when we start to talk about someone like Tertullian, or Irenaus do we have confidence that those people actually existed. And begin to get a sense what they actually might have thought. Even at the edge, people like Polycarp could very well be literary creations by Irenaus and Poinious.

    See this series specifically on polycarp at;

    look at the bottom for “Against polycarp” it is an current ongoing series.

    I spent the first ten years of my christian history studies doing nothing but historical jesus stuff. I can tell you. It’s a dead end. It’s not that I would SKIP it. It’s just I spent ten years doing it. There simply is no data. I mean, other than the gospels and a few things here or there. Nothing that can even demonstrate if a jesus actually existed, or was a literary creation.


  5. Being careful not to downplay the value of patristic study to the history of Christianity, I am curious to know how one would begin to place precedence on the early church fathers with respect to the apostolic age. Furthermore, what about Tertullian grants him a more probable existence than Jesus? If “data” is what existence hinges on, does that not make anything that predates our own birth suspect? In a critical sense, the literature surrounding Jesus and the apostles corresponds with literary studies of that era as much as any figure in history. It would seem that dismissing study of the apostolic period, and subsequently first century Judaism from which Christianity was birthed, as a historical source would be detrimental to understanding the creation of the gospels.

    I have no choice but to conclude that my own approach to the Synoptic Problem echoes the original question (problem?) and partial solution (opportunity) offered in this post. Sometimes I wonder if the term problem was just simply a misnomer. Is this not simply a discussion of the “potpourri of perspectives” of literary relation– at most, a debate? As Blomberg states, “The contents of 97-99 percent of the text are certain beyond any reasonable doubt – far better than for any other documents of the same age. Furthermore, no doctrine of the Christian faith hangs on any disputed texts” (Blomberg, 85) I agree that this is much more of an opportunity, and all that can be gained is a deeper understanding of the scriptures.

    • Steven has a point when he addresses the issue of not studying the apostolic period and first century Judaism where Christianity came about as a historical source for understanding the creation of the gospels. After all, if we do not study where the gospels first originated, then how would we be able to understand it in the first place. I agree with Steve, that the more we study of how everything came about, the more we will be able to grasp a deeper and more intellectual understanding of the scriptures.

  6. I really do not think that there a synoptic problem with the gospels. I think that is a good thing that Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s writings are similar to each other because then it leaves little room for doubting that these three books did actually tell the story of Jesus’ life. God did, however give each of a mind to be creative with. The Holy Spirit was also the inspiration for the writing of the scriptures. 1 Thessalonians 1:5 says, “Because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake” (NIV). The baptism of Jesus is an example of how the writer has an imagination on how he wants to write this story. In Mark 1:10 and Luke 3:22 the voice from heaven addresses Jesus, but in Matthew the voice addresses John the Baptist. I believe that Matthew wanted to use his own imagination and idea to tell the story differently to give it a different perspective.

    • Going back to the Blomberg’s book we are reminded that the enlightenment changed the way we look at the scriptures especially at the recorded gospels and their slight differences. Could this have corrupted the way we look at scripture? It is hard not to notice the way the enlightenment has affected our world today even though we are not presently experiencing the enlightenment. Is there any group that still looks at the Gospels as a composite whole as described on page 87 of Blomberg? I thought everyone held that belief until I dug into these books. Like Steven pointed out from page 85 of Blomberg’s book “no doctrine of the Christian faith hangs on any disputed text.” Besides, the small differences that are found support the view that the scriptures were not made up in the last 300 years or changed by the early church. I believe in the inerrancy of scripture.
      This post as well as the previous posts reflects the reality that the more we learn or gather the more questions we have. I believe God made known what he wanted to be made known in the scriptures.

  7. Yes, “The unique fact that we have four different accounts of the life of Jesus has generated interest throughout church history” (Blomberg 87). I find it interesting that we would have several different accounts with the same storyline (plus or minus a few parables and stories). Honestly, I do wonder about that. Though, I believe it to be as much an opportunity as Steven, Cary, and Aaron have mentioned. I see value in looking at the life, death, and ministry of Jesus through the lens of a tax collector, a physician, and an eyewitness to gospel events. The vary fact that God used people from completely different social circles, occupations, and backgrounds stands as a reminder of how the gospel can transform and redeem the life of all mankind no matter their background (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2). Might this be a look into what a restored humanity will look like?

  8. Webulite, to say that there is no hard evidence or “data” on Jesus Christ the man is only to say that the editorial ups and downs of the Bible are more subject to suspect than that of other literature. Most every document from the ancient world was subject to the common place edits and rewrites of literature and to speculations just as we see here. It is my belief, that the words of the Bible are the Verbal plenary word of God, and, I have seen countless accounts of “hard – evidence” namely archaeological evidence proving that many, many accounts from scripture are provable and believable, without the faith factor. My question for you is, what is it about scripture, above all other literature, makes it more worthy of suspicion and speculation, in specific regard to the time that it was written and edited, along with other manuscripts of the same chronological category. Please keep in mind that is was and still is commonplace for the majority of written texts to be “warped” by the world of editors around it.

  9. I do not think that there’s a Synoptic problem. I believe that God in all of his infinite wisdom had a reason for the presentation of the Synoptic Gospels in different lights. I like that Anna mentioned the value of seeing the Gospel written from different views; a tax collector, a physician, and an eye-witness. I believe the only question is that of ‘how the Gospels came to be’? Were there outside documents involved, or did 2 of the authors copy off of another. I don’t believe this is a serious problem. It is a question that we have theories about. If the answer were found out, there would still be those out there that would doubt the Gospels, or find another problem to throw into the mix. Not everyone will be satisfied all of the time. There will always be doubters and those that will question every single thing, even if it seems to be factual.

    • [quote] I do not think that there’s a Synoptic problem. [/quote]

      The term “synoptic problem” references the problem or question of determining the date order that the gospels where written in, ie, which was written first, second, third, forth. That is what the term “problem” refers to, the “problem” or “question” of determining the order.

      Even to this day, we are not sure of the order. While we appear confident that the one we call Mark (remember, they are actually all anonymous works, so the names are simply assigned by tradition) was written first, that the one we call John last. We don’t have are much confidence of the one we call Mattew was written before the one we call Luke, or if the one we call Luke was written before the one we call Mattew.

      And, while we BELIEVE that we have a knowledge of the order, this is only a theory. The order has not yet been demonstrated.

      So again, the term “problem” simply means the “question” or what order they were written in.


  10. I dont believe this is a problem at all. I believe that this just shows that the synoptic Gospels were written by three different people. No two people are going to see the same thing, everyone has a different point of view and interpret things differently. I think the thing that this proves it that Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written by humans that are not able to see everything. As was said about Matthew having stories that are unique and Luke having parables that do not appear in Matthew. This shows that there are places where the writers were not either there or did not see the story as important. This shows that human descision was in the writing of these books.

    • I agree with Kyle (and several others) that there is no synoptic problem at all. When reading, studying or analyzing the synoptic gospels, it is easy to tell that there are truly differences in the text which are as important as the similarities. This does not, however, downplay the significance of the gospels as a whole. It is true that in the synoptic gospels there were three different authors with three different perspectives and three different personalities, and that they wrote their books under inspiration of the Holy Spirit; but it is not that the Holy Spirit possessed them, but rather, he–by perfect inspiration, via God’s sovereignty and through the conduit of the authors themselves–wrote them. Once this is realized, then the issue of wording and translation arises; conversely, I believe it is a matter of “ipsimima verba” (perfect wording) versus “ipsissima vox” (perfect voice). This means either God wanted perfect wording and meant to convey every word in its exact translation to mean literally what the text says or that the overall voice–the themes, ideas and ultimate impact of scripture–is exactly what God intended, despite the seemingly contradictory phrasing. I have to believe that God is sovereign, and what we have as the Canon of the Bible is true and genuine, despite the translations (within reason) and so-called “problems”.

      • Hello Joe,

        Again, remember that “synoptic problem” is technical language that simply means “the question of what order the synoptic gospels were written in”.

        This is still a question, the answer to which has not been demonstrated. So it is indeed still a open question, or to use the term of the industry a “problem”.

        Try not to get hung up on the word “problem”. Like I said, it is simply the phrase the industry uses to ask the question “What order where the synoptic gospels written in.”


  11. Before this class I have never really thought hard about there being a problem with the Gospels because they are so similar but also have a few differences. I still don’t believe there is a problem at all. It is a good thing that all the synoptic Gospels are so similar because I believe that it shows there is truth behind them. I agree with Blomberg when he said, “For whatever reason, God did not see fit to ensure that those documents were inerrantly preserved” (85). Like Jonathon, I have always believed in the authority and inerrancy of the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). I think that verse 17 is just as important. It shows us that the Word is useful to teach us. In my opinion it is important to take a look at the disputed texts because none of them are questions on the Christian Doctrine (85). Like Professor Long posted, we have to take this so-called problem and think of it as an opportunity to learn more about the authors and time back in the first century.

  12. I like how the synoptic “problem” can be looked at as an opportunity. It is interesting that there are varying accounts of Jesus’ life and even some “problematic” texts that seemingly have contradictory statements. However, it is like everyone has been saying, “no doctrine of the Christian faith hangs on any disputed texts” (Blomberg 85). I like how Aaron puts it, each time we tell a story we tend to change it a bit. It will never come out the same way but each time we say it, the story still is true.

    “But for the most part, the Synoptic Problem is not that these are three different gospels, but rather that these are three similar gospels, written within a short time of each other.”

    The gospels we possess have much more similarities than “problems.” They give us different perspectives of Jesus’ life. In fact, it is said that John wrote of the Divine word of God, Luke about Jesus priestly role, Matthew on Jesus’ humanity, and Mark on Jesus as prophet (Blomberg 87). Obviously when there are different authors writing about different aspects of Jesus’ life there will be areas that will be different. But just because they differ, it doesnt mean that there is a “problem.” Now we can look into Jesus’ life in different ways and can understand just what he did on this earth for us even more.

    • I also echo what Aaron and Brent have been saying… I think there isn’t a “problem” regarding the synoptic gospels. The issue is “the gospels and the order that they were written” [webulite]. Blomberg also testifies that there are four issues to the synoptic problem: Parallelism, Translation from Aramaic to Greek, Parenthetical Comments or explanatory asides added by a particular author, order of episodes” [Blomberg 87]. The question that Blomberg presents is if the overwhelming probability that the Synoptics are related at a literary level, what is the nature of that relationship? I think the answer is found within “apostolicity [authorship by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle during the first century], orthodoxy [no contradicitions], and relevance [widely used throughout the early church rather than being limited to one of a few small groups].

      As far as the order of the Gospels, Blomberg believes that the order was arrived to strengthen the New Testament – “affirming it’s belief that the authority of these books equaled that of the Hebrew Bible, now to be interpreted in light of its fulfillment in Jesus Christ” [Blomberg 97].

      • The above comment is mine… Joe was using my computer and I forgot to switch user names…. sorry Plong!

      • Hello Brett,

        Again the term “problem” in academics or science simply means “question”. In the case of “the synoptic problems”, it simply means, “the question is what order were the synoptic gospels written in”.


  13. Is it really a problem? Or was it meant to be that way??? We will never know! I never really thought about it as a problem before, I mean I just read through them and never really realized they were that similar. I agree with Kyle where he says that it’s not a problem and that the synoptic Gospels were written by three different people. No two people are going to see the same thing, everyone has a different point of view and interpret things differently. If you tell a few people to write a book about a certain thing they are all going to have different views and look at things a lot differently than the next person. I don’t think it’s a problem at all but just the way we see things.

  14. Dear Mat Nordyke,

    what is it about scripture, above all other literature, makes it more worthy of suspicion and speculation

    I would not say that “scripture above all other literature, makes it more worth of suspicious”. I never said, or even hinted at such a thing. I have no idea where you got that idea. For example, a Stephen King Novel is going to contain fictional information. So would marketing material from a company. many documents contain fiction material.

    It is my belief, that the words of the Bible are the Verbal plenary word of God…

    I am a historian, not a supernaturalist like yourself. So when I study the history of christianity I do it the same way I would study early Samurai life (which I happen to be reading a paper on at the moment), or ancient knights of the middle ages.

    The historian has various tools and methods in doing this. And when we look at early Christianity we have some problems. First the founder character, Jesus, is not mentioned by contemporaries, and we have no archeological data concerning him. Even the apostles are shadow characters, and there are good historical arguments that they are literary creations of the later Church Father. The reason? To create argument material that could be pointed to in arguments within the early christian groups. Within early Christianity we have a great deal of arguing between the Ebionites, that Valentinious, Marcious, Florinus, and a large number of early christian group we know of. In addition, at a certain point, there were also arguments between Christian groups, and hellenistic neo-platonic groups. Early Christianity is made up of an amazing amount of disagreement and arguing inside the group.

    There are many other issues, but as you said that you are a supernaturalist, and this is a topic that you have invested in from a faith standpoint, I will not go into further detail. If you are interested in hearing more, feel free to email me, and I will be happy to talk to you about a more detailed list if things, etc…


    • Nordyke is a supernaturalist, by your definition (whether he likes that or not!)

      However, I will point out that you favor the patristic evidence, for some reason. I am curious why you would reject such streams of tradition as the well-accepted sayings document (Q) as an early source. Maybe youdo not reject a sayings source, but you seem to favor later sources. For example, it seems to me that Didache, one of the earliest patristic sources, either uses Matthew or Q. If Matthew and Luke used Q, that means that a sayings collection, whether written or oral, existed prior to AD 70, if not before. Even the skeptical Jesus Seminar accepts a sayings document as the earliest strand of tradition.

      I am not sure why you privilege the Ebionites, for example, when the documentary evidence for the beliefs of this group are late and from their opponents. Surely that is not an accurate picture of what the Ebionites believed?

      • Dear Phillip,

        [quote] I am curious why you would reject such streams of tradition as the well-accepted sayings document (Q) as an early source. [/quote]

        In this case the key is the difference between “accepted” and “demonstrated”. I look for things to be demonstrated. An entire industry can be wrong, so going by what people accept is simply jumping on the current speculative opinion. So, I want to see things “demonstrated” rather than just accepted.

        Let’s break very early christian history into a couple of groupings. 1) the life of jesus 2) the life of the apostles (especially after jesus death), the 3) the time of the “fathers” (people that were after the apostles but taught by an apostle), and 4) later.

        In the case of 1 & 2, there is zero evidence other than the writings from within the group. Only with time period 3 do we start to have the chance of having outsiders also write about these people.

        So, if we are looking at character X, it is helpful for a historian to have writings not just from inside a group, but from outside. With the case of jesus, the only writings we have are from people inside the group. Even with regards to the apostles all the writings are from people inside the group. Now… once we get to a later time period, time period 3 we start to have outsiders also writing. So for example, we have the writings of Celsus ( ). When he writes about a church father, we tend to have more confidence that that father actually existed. Since we has the christian group writing about them, AND an outsider of the group also writing about them.

        That is why I say that while the data about jesus, and the apostles exists only from inside the christian group itself, once we hit that period of the fathers, also called patristic, we start to get outsiders (sometimes called “independent attestation” in the field of history), so we can have more confidence the people we are looking at may have been real rather then legendary characters.


  15. I would have to say that there is not a synoptic “problem,” and that I like how P. Long said to look at it more as an opportunity. I believe that it is important to know the Gospels and what they have to say. I also believe that is important to have some understanding of how and when they were written. What the Gospels have to say is true, for it is God-breathed. I really like what Anna had to say, ” I see value in looking at the life, death, and ministry of Jesus through the lens of a tax collector, a physician, and an eyewitness to gospel events.” This really gives a person a different perspective at looking at the Gospels. Thinking of the synoptic Gospels as different perspectives of the same events, told through different people, really makes a person ponder. What was this person feeling? seeing? doing? thinking? One thing that Aaron said at the end of his comment was, “I never tell the same story exactly the same way. But each time I share a true story it is still true.” All of the synoptic Gospels are true, but each one is just told in a different perspective. Is this a problem? I think not.

  16. What if this “problem” we speak of is not a problem at all, but rather is a validation? I don’t find the similarities in the synoptic Gospels worthy of questioning or calling a problem. I view the similarities as a way of validating the story of Jesus Christ. It shows me that God had some pretty direct words He wanted inspired, given the number of verses that almost identical. I understand that two of the three synoptic Gospels had another one or two Gospels to reference back to, but to have exact verses and phrases is definite inspiration. It also proves to me that the oral recollections of Jesus’ life that were passed along before the Gospels were written were in fact kept in check, seeing as that three of the four Gospels were very much similar and inspired similarly. I like the verse Cary uses in the middle of his last post, 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
    Why can’t three books out of sixty-six be similar? Why does there have to be a problem with that? Are we telling God He can’t by questioning these similarities? Are we questioning absolutes? I can follow the reasons that certain scholars believe there is a problem with the synoptic Gospels but I think they are putting God in a box when they think God can’t or wouldn’t inspire the same story similarly with three separate authors.

  17. Webulite. I am not a super naturalist, I too am a Historian. The texts of the Bible are equal in regards to factual ballast as of those found about the Dark Ages, Middle ages, Victorian Era, Elizabethan Era, and Renaissance period. The Textus Receptus was written during the time of the Bubonic Plague, for example. The fact that a set of Biblical texts could be assembled and distributed at this time, which effected the entirety of the known world, up to and including the aiding of a crusade being perpetuated, does indeed, and in all regards make it not the work of a babbling super-naturalist, but on the very same field of those written on accounts of such events as the battle at Senlac hill in 1066, or the battle of Crecy, Agincourt, Tours, Stirling Bridge, etc. I approach the Bible from the notion of it being a guide to my life as a religious man, and may I stress not a super-naturalist. I also approach the Bible as a window, if you will, into the past of humanities foundation. The Bible is as much a historical document as the Bayeux Tapestry, and as much a religious manuscript as the Quran. It is only when one approaches the Bible as filled with shadow Characters and self-contradictions that one will form the text to be so. There is no problem in the Synoptic Gospels as much as there is a formation of one, by those who would mold the text into such a way, bringing their own personality into the interpretation. The differentiations between Matthew, Mark, and Luke are minor in this way, the chosen wording reflects that the authors may not have all been a first hand account. The opposite is true and that the differences reflect a commonality that was so well known, that the potential for major differences (almost completely different stories A.K.A the telephone game) didn’t happen.

  18. Hey Matt,

    I was referring to when you said this;

    It is my belief, that the words of the Bible are the Verbal plenary word of God…

    Gods are supernaturalistic beings. Beliefs in gods would make one a supernaturalist. That is all I was referring to.


  19. After reading the post, and comments left afterwards, I took some time to try, and create my own personal opinion on this topic. My initial reaction tends to be who cares when it comes to the Synoptic Gospel issues. But then I decided to put myself in someone elses shoes who does not have a good of an understanding of these three particular books. I can see the confusions that Blomberg presents with differences in each book, and how questions could arrive.

    But more and more I think about it, I see this as an oppurtunity just like P. Long stated at the beginning. This is an oppurtunity to educate those who have questions to see that these are three individuals that lived life with Christ, and share many of the same stories to prove the credibility of the others.

    • Just a bit more of an opportunity, Jed. I had in mind that the synoptic problem creates an opportunity to show through somewhat rational means that the the text as we have it is not created out of whole cloth in the late first century by people who never really witnessed the Historical Jesus. the more we can argue that a tradition goes back to the first generation, the more likely that it is to be authentic. The fact that we can say that there are two or three “streams of tradition” (Mark, Q, Matthew, Luke, etc.) tells me that we can come up with something historical with respect to Jesus; life and teaching.

  20. The synoptic gospels where written from three different perspectives on the accounts of Jesus’ life. From reading the gospels several times I have come to appreciate the different perspectives. It is not to say that one of the synoptic gospels is more true, it is just showing three different realities. This has helped historians, biblical scholars, and Christians alike gain a whole perspective on the life of Christ. Similarities and patterns can be found throughout all three gospels. This only confirms that the accounts of Jesus life where real. The whole conversation on the evidence of who wrote the gospels and what order they where written is irrelevant.

  21. @Matt Elgersma: “what order they where written is irrelevant.”

    I am not sure it is irrelevant, that seems to be avoiding a problem which potentially undercuts faith. There is an answer here, and that we think about it and try to answer critics is an important function of scholarship. The “conversation” certainly has apologetic value at the very least!

  22. I believe there is a reason and purpose for the order and I love the opportunity for apologetics (huge fan). My previous statement “The whole conversation on the evidence of who wrote the gospels and what order they where written is irrelevant” may have been written to loosely and harsh. The synoptic gospels present a great base on the life of Jesus. If one was to explore these historical documents they would be able to see the similarities and the reason for the order.

  23. Matt – “If one was to explore these historical documents…” this is what I am all about! We are dealing with ancient texts that do reflect a historical reality – and a historical reality that make s a difference in my life today. T recite a popular phrase, What if Jesus meant what he said? What if he was right?

    This make things a bit more important that mere historical questions.

  24. Oh, my apologies, by those means I am indeed a supernaturalist. To me though, it seems that you favor the “natural” over the “supernatural” if I would be correct to term things this way. If so, then why would the involvement of things unexplainable be ruled out, as throughout humanities existence the unexplainable becomes apparent (Advances in medicine, Physics, and Chemistry) or remains unexplained is thus pursued further (the being and existence of Jesus Christ).

    • Hey Mat,

      [quote] Oh, my apologies, by those means I am indeed a supernaturalist. To me though, it seems that you favor the “natural” over the “supernatural” if I would be correct to term things this way. If so, then why would the involvement of things unexplainable be ruled out, as throughout humanities existence the unexplainable becomes apparent (Advances in medicine, Physics, and Chemistry) or remains unexplained is thus pursued further (the being and existence of Jesus Christ). [\quote]

      No problem. Remember, these are not terms “I” make up, these are simply the dictionary meanings. I noticed you said “”by those terms…” and someone else said something like “Nordyke is a supernaturalist, by your definition”. As if this is some special meaning I have. These are simply the meaning of words. Just as people understand red, or move, or age, or any word we use supernatural, and supernaturalistic are well defined and commonly understood terms.

      supernatural |ˌsoōpərˈna ch (ə)rəl|
      (of a manifestation or event) attributed to some force beyond scientific understanding or the laws of nature : a supernatural being.
      • unnaturally or extraordinarily great : a woman of supernatural beauty.

      You can find a more explanatory explanation here;

      And a very good essay that talks about the issue here;


    • Hey Mat,

      [quote] To me though, it seems that you favor the “natural” over the “supernatural” if I would be correct to term things this way. [/quote]

      Someone recently posted me about just this kind of thing. Let me just recreate a slightly adjusted answer I gave them, and perhaps it will help.

      I would not say that I “discredit’ a supernaturalists view. At least that is not the word I would use. What we have to understand is the difference between supernaturalism and naturalism.

      Science, which history hopes to be a subset of at least in a way, which would include the scholarship of the history of christianity, can only accept the tools and data that have been up to this point demonstrated.

      So, for example, in a science paper, you can talk about a theory and in your argument use gravity in the argument. The reason for this is that gravity is something that science has already demonstrated. So, in science, or scholarly history, you are allowed to use anything that has been demonstrated in the past.

      Now, what scholars or scientists generally do is make hypothesizes, or guess on NEW things. Then they create a tests to see if they can demonstrate this NEW thing. If they can demonstrate this new thing, THEN their hypothesis becomes accepted, and it becomes added to the bag of knowledge that others can use when trying to demonstrate their new hypothesis. There are technical differences between this knowledge, sometimes it is called a theory (different than how the word is used in common usage; see and sometimes it is called a law

      And it’s a continual building process.

      For example, the idea speed was a concept that science discovered. Then once speed was discovered the idea of acceleration could be discovered (which is the change in the rate of speed). But for acceleration to be discussed, the concept of speed already had to exist.

      So, with regard to mat’s supernaturalistic views. The supernatural has never been demonstrated. It is a speculative idea, or a hypothesis. So… it cannot be used in academic or scientific discussions. There is nothing in science that rules out the supernatural. It simply has to be demonstrated by someone before it can be included in the discussion.

      So just as you cannot go to a science conference, and talk about how “invisible green elves pull everything to the groud”, you cannot talk about supernaturalistic things until you demonstrate them in the history community. Now… if someone can show that invisible green elves actually DO pull everything to the ground, then you can go to a science conference and talk about that.

      So, again, I do not mean to demean a supernaturalist, which is what I think of when you use the word ‘discredit his view”. I simply am saying that as a historian until the supernatural is demonstrated, I cannot include it in my discussions of early church history.


  25. To be quite honest, these types of discussions, and this typed of material; is way beyond my comprehension. It is not that I am stupid, it is not that I do not care, and it is not that I cannot read; it is simply something that does not spark any kind of reaction in my brain or emotions. As I am required to do this for a class, I have read through the post and then the following comments.
    I have to say that I have always wondered about the gospels, while telling about Jesus’ life, and the way they were written . They all tell the same story, Jesus’ life on earth, but they tell them in different ways. The fact that these three men were practicing completely different trades and were completely different men is very interesting. God must have chosen these three men specifically to write these words and write them the way that they did. I can see how it would be a “problem”. The fact that people who do not read the Bible regularly and study it, could pick it up try to read some of the gospels and be very confused as to why they are worded differently; or why in Mark 1:10 and Luke 3:22 the voice says one thing but in Matthew 3:17 it says something different.

  26. So, I could say, along with everyone else, that there is no “problem” with the Synoptic Gospels, but I’m going to say something a little different. First of all, could it be a “problem” if to those searching for truth, those searching for God, (or those doubting) we do not have valid or plausible answers to things that bring doubt to Christianity being any different than the claims of so many others that are founded on mere human motivations and accounts? Could it be harmful if we don’t know the order in which the books were written, (or the sources that were used and how) and have to come up with all sorts of hypothesis to explain the gospels and to make sense of the things that don’t add up between them? On the other hand, “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” ( Hebrews 11:1). Salvation is by faith, faith is a conviction of things not seen, so does knowing the order of the gospels or the sources they are using really effect anyone’s decision to faith in Christ? I think faith in Christ is a decision not a conclusion. All this said, I don’t believe that knowing the answers to all the questions that come up about the gospels is necessary, but I do believe it is beneficial and important on a number of levels.

    • Dear Britalia,

      They are simply asking what order they were written in.

      It sounds like what you, and possible others are saying is “I don’t care what order they are written in”. But that is a totally different topic.

      As a historian (just a hobbiest not a professional) I am simply trying to explain what the term “the synoptic problem” means, since that was the topic of the original essay.

      The point is that we do not know what order the synoptic gospels were written in. There are many that are trying to figure out that order. If you or others don’t care about that question, that is one thing. But it does remain, there are many that are trying to figure it out. And hence they have given a name to that task.


      • Coming from the Christian stand point, no I do not see any problem with the synoptic gospels. I can see however where people from the modern liberal background would question the gospels. Being a Christian and knowing the Word of God is ALL true and EVERYTHING written in it came directly from God (2 tim 3:16) it makes it hard for me to open my mind to other people thoughts and ideas about the gospels. I agree with Britalia in saying that from other peoples point of view, yes there is a problem, which unfortunately modern day liberalism is what is most common in America, making most peoples opinion yes there is. However, as Christians we need to stay strong in saying no. This class is such a great tool for doing so because it helps give us the sources we need to use to back up our beliefs and make a point that can stand against those who do not believe in God.

  27. Dear katelyndshanley,

    [quote] Coming from the Christian stand point, no I do not see any problem with the synoptic gospels. [\quote]

    The term “The Synoptic Problem” has nothing to do with that. “The Synoptic Problem” is simply the scientific way of saying “The Synoptic Question”, and the question in this case is the order that the Synoptic Gospels were written.

    What you are doing is fixating on an incorrect usage of the word “problem” and using it in the everyday manor, instead of the scientific manor. And after all “The Synoptic Problem” is a scientific question so you need to adjust your reading of the word to the correct usage.

    It would be like you looking at the phrase “tort law” and saying; “but I know that torte’s are cake made primarily with eggs, sugar, and ground nuts instead of flour. I don’t see any eggs or flour in tort law, so I don’t think there really is anything such as tort law.


  28. I do not believe there is a synoptic problem at all. I can definitely see where the questions arise. My initial reaction tends to be that of Jed by way of saying “who cares?” I have read through the gospels and can certainly see how some people would suggest that the gospels are different from one another. The fact of th matter is, they Parrnell each other. Each one of the gospels, though written by different authors, all tell about the life of Jesus. they just all tell it in different senses. I would say that with each gospel being written in different senses, other interpreters come across as the gospels being completely contradictory to each other.

  29. I do not think there is a synoptic problem. I haven’t read each gospel from beginning to end but from reading the required text and doing a small amount of research on YouTube I conclude that its merely based on perception and interpretation of the individual reader who is consuming the content. I think these are matthew, mark, and luke perspective on how things went down. the problem occurs to me when the comparing and the questioning of the timing of the writings. in the “four portraits of jesus” is gives different persepctives of the question “who went first?” it really comes down to what the individual person feels is right. id have to read all the gospels to get a better grasp. does anyone know more about the GOSPEL OF THOMAS?

    • Sure, the Gospel of Thomas is probably written in the second century, close to 200 years after the time of Jesus. It contains a series of sayings of Jesus, and a few parables. There are no miracles or other action scenes. Theologically, it is gnostic. This is a second century blending of Jewish theology, Christian theology, and some platonic philosophy.

      Although it was known prior to the 1950s in fragments, it was discovered in Egypt in a complete form written in the Coptic language. I have a copy of it in my office if you’d like to stop in and look at it.

  30. The idea that there is a problem in the Gospels for having apparent contradictions is, in my mind, implying that they should be completely the same without room for the human element. The gospels were written by humans with unique perspectives on the events and each author remembers different details from the story and adds their own perspective. The Gospels were written to communicate a story and each person has a unique perspective on that story. Mark L. Strauss puts this well in Four Portraits One Jesus saying the synoptic gospels are similar to his son getting his picture taken four times. Each picture had a different facial expression and expressed different emotions. Strauss asks which was his son to which he answers, all four were his son but each represented his son differently. Strauss says “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John paints a unique portrait of Jesus. Each provides special insight into who he is and what he accomplished” (Four Portraits pg.24). In the criminal justice system, they use the idea that when several eyewitnesses share their account of the given crime there should be similarities as well as differences among the stories. If each story is identical then it is suspected that the story was crafted and not accurate. The existence of a diverse account but complementary stories makes the account more believable, not less. The same is true for the synoptic gospels.

  31. Yes, I would have to agree on this topic. Who says similarities are problems and these so called “contradictions” how are they truly contradictions simply because of different wordings? I think there is value in what was said, just because there are similarities does not necessarily mean there is a problem in fact it just goes to show how important it was to get the story right and leaves no room for making things up and telling stories or even exaggerating. I think because they were written so close together helps us understand why there are so many exact phrases. These “contradictions” really are not contradictions if they are simply words said differently than another Gospel. In the case of Mark 1:10 and Luke 3:22, it is not like the person who the words were directed to was different between the two it was simply who the words were addressing. The subject of the words never changed nor did the “person” who was saying the words change. I fail to see how this is a contradiction.

  32. Personally I do not think that there is a synoptic “problem” per say. To use the word “problem” here makes me think that there is an issue that discredits the synoptic gospels or creates an issue- which I do not think should be the case. While we might not be able to precisely explain the similarities and differences among the Synoptic Gospels, I think it makes a lot of sense why this occurred. Luke 1:1-2 says “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word”. These verses show that different people have written accounts of events and things that have happened from different people’s point of view, so of course there are going to be both similarities and differences in these writing because not everyone’s account is going to be the exact same. Different people had different views/perspectives, and it is possible that people remembered things differently. However, what is important to remember is that “all scripture is God breathed”, and these similarities/differences should not take anything away from the scripture.(2 Timothy 3:16). If anything I think this just strengthens the truth of the Gospels because of how impressive it is that these different accounts were all so similar to each other.

  33. I really do not believe that there is a problem in the slightest. I appreciate how the authors are able to tell the story from different points of views. This gives us more proof that it is accurate since all three books line up so well. It also gives us more information about the story of Jesus because some books give us information that the others do not and vise-versa. I honestly wish that there were more Gospels written so we could see even a clearer picture. Not to question God, because that is most certainly not my place, but I just would have selfishly liked it. If one author really copied off the other it is not that big of a deal because they were all experiencing it. An author could have very easily taken someone else’s writing as an outline then made it their own, which is not a problem at all.

  34. I personally don’t think there is a “synoptic problem”. I agree with your statement (P.Long), “I do not see a problem as much as I see an opportunity”. I have heard the “synoptic problem” arguments from many different people. Some believe that the book of Matthew was written first while others believe that the book of Mark was written first and a heated argument ensues… It is also eye opening to learn about the many different arguments like four-source theory, two-source theory, Q theory, and Farrer Hypothesis. I think it is interesting how God gave us three different authors, with three different perspectives sharing recounting the same stories. Which all lead up to the same purpose of sharing who Jesus Christ is. God had a plan and purpose for choosing all different authors. By having multiple authors, we can learn something new from each. Strauss stated, “the four gospels were written to provide four unique portraits of Jesus Christ” (p.44). God is giving us an opportunity to learn from authors that have similarities and differences.

    Strauss, M. L. (2020). Four portraits, one jesus: A survey of jesus and the gospels. Zondervan Academic.

  35. I would tend to agree with you here, in fact, I do not see it as a problem at all. These gospels are obviously going to be similar; they are all telling the same story, the life of Jesus. I would also think it is quite normal that they follow very similar timelines, for the same reason. As for the wording issue, while similar, they are not carbon copies of each other, and they were written at different times by different people, and they spoke to different people as well, so it would be weird to expect them to have the same wording throughout. As for the problem of them all being written at similar times, I feel we would rather have them written somewhat close to the death of Jesus, while the generation that was alive with him were still there to be consulted, and not hundreds of years after where information could be lost, or stories changed. I also personally don’t believe it matters very much which was written first, it was in god’s plan for all of the gospels to be written the way that they are, so we have different perspectives into the life of Jesus.

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