What Is the Meaning of Synoptic Gospels?

The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke make up the synoptic gospels, because they include the same stories with similar wording, in contrast to the gospel of John, which is relatively unique. Synoptic comes from the Greek words, “syn,” which means similar, and “optic,” which means seeing. The synoptic gospels see things in similar ways and thus have similar formats.

The writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke follow similar chronological sequences and contain many of the same words and phrases. The term triple tradition describes the common material that the synoptic gospels cover. The synoptic gospels include the temptation of Jesus, the transfiguration and descriptions of the Lord’s supper, while John’s gospel omits these accounts. The synoptic gospels omit the early ministry of Jesus in Galilee and the story of Lazarus raising from the dead. The synoptics include only one year of Jesus’ ministry, while John instead includes four years.

The synoptic gospels describe the events of Jesus’ life rather than reflect upon it. The point of view in the synoptic gospels is one of progressive understanding, while the gospel of John takes into account the entire life of Jesus, including the resurrection, throughout the text. The synoptic gospels, and the reasons for their similar content, are the source of debate among scholars. Some claim that the synoptic gospels, despite having a high percentage of verbatim content, are all independent works and not drawn from a common source, proving the authors had the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Others argue that they come form similar sources, oral traditions or even another lost gospel.