The Development of the Synoptic Gospels

Posted: September 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

SynopticGospelPicMatthew, Mark, and Luke are the names associated with the first three books of our English Bibles. These books are accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Together these three accounts of Jesus’ life are knowns as the Synoptic Gospels. The word synoptic, coming from the Greek σύνοψη, means to “see together”. Thus, the three Gospel accounts “see together” the life of Jesus. That is, they all provide us with overviews of the life and ministry of Jesus. Each author emphasizes his own points and tells the story from his vantage point. Together they give us a somewhat comprehensive overview of the life of Christ.

One question that arises when studying the Synoptic Gospels is that of origin. D.A. Carson and Doug Moo ask, “How did the Synoptic Gospels come into being?” (An Introduction to the New Testament, 78). They go on to develop a lengthy section of their textbook that overviews various theories of development. Noting that there are at least three stages of development, Carson and Moo provide the reader with an overview of three types of New Testament Criticism. I will note these below before moving on.

1) Form Criticism–“Form critics claim that the early Christians transmitted the words and actions of Jesus by word of mouth for a considerable length of time. Only after two decades or so did the material begin to be put into written sources, with the gospels themselves coming shortly afterward” (Carson and Moo, 79).

2) Source Criticism--this type of criticism “is devoted to the investigation of [the] written stage in the production of the gospels. It asks and seeks to answer [the] question: What written sources, in any, did the evangelists use in compiling their gospels?” ( Carson and Moo, 86).

3) Redaction Criticism–this approach “seeks to describe the theological purposes of the evangelists by analyzing the way they use their sources…redaction critics insist that the evangelists must be given their rightful place as authors: people who, however dependent on sources and traditions, have creatively and purposefully molded that tradition into a literary whole with a theology of its own” (Carson and Moo, 104).

As Carson and Moo develop this section of their book they not only describe each approach to NT study, but evaluate the approaches they are describing. What I found to be most helpful is their generous and balanced conclusions. Carson and Moo do not immediately reject everything about these approaches. They note where helpful principles exist while making sure to highlight the problems within the various methods of NT study. Thus the reader can walk away with helpful ideas while being warned of the dangers that are present in certain areas.

The issues that surround the study of the Synoptic Gospels are plethora. Yet, Carson and Moo have written a chapter that helps the student of the Bible be aware of various ways others have approached the Gospels throughout history. Being familiar with these concepts and ideas prove helpful as one notices differences and similarities in the way the writers present material.

Happy studying.


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