The Gospel according to Matthew, Mark and Luke, if compared with each other, are very similar to one another in content and expression. As a result, they are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels. The word “synoptic” means: “seeing together with a common view”.
The similarities among them have led to wonder, if these writers of the Gospel had a common source, from which they obtained their basic material. At the same time there are also differences among them. The question of how to explain the similarities and the differences among the Synoptic Gospels is called the Synoptic Problem. The Synoptic Problem is not really a problem in the normal sense of the term. It is simply a way to refer to questions and possible explanations about the literary relationships between them.
Considering the fact that they were written at different times and in different places and to different people, the similarities raise question whether the authors were using a common written source.
One of the explanations for their similarities is that they were all written by people who were inspired by the Holy Spirit and witnessed or were told about the same events: Matthew’s Gospel was written by Matthew, the Apostle; Mark’s Gospel was written by John Mark, a close associate of the Apostle Peter and Luke’s Gospel was written by Luke, a close associate of the Apostle Paul.
However, the differences among them are explained and solution to the Synoptic Problem is given with the three following possibilities: Oral Tradition: The early preaching of the Gospel was by way of mouth. The pre-existing oral tradition was used later by the authors of the Gospel. Interdependence: This suggests that in some way, the Gospel written on later dates was dependent on the ones written previously. So, there must have been some sort of sharing of material. Fragmentary: There would have been various oral and written collections of short accounts of Jesus’ miracles, parables, preaching and biography, preserved in various communities and the writers must have compiled them from different sources. This explains the reason for difference
One must remember that the first Gospel was written by Mark at least 25 – 30 years after the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Hence the writers could not have written the Gospel without the help of the pre-existing sources. Hence, even though Matthew, Mark and Luke have written the Gospel from the same point of view, there are similarities and differences among them.
Let us try to understand the Gospel with right perspective.
Fr. Arul Joseph V.