Using a Gospel Synopsis
 Lecture Notes for Topics 1.3 - 1.3.3
Religion 311
Last revised: 9/02/03
Contained below is a manuscript summarizing the class lecture(s) covering the above specified range of topics from the List of Topics for the appropriate course(s) indicated above: Religion 102 / 305 / 311 / 314. For updated information about the class, see the appropriate class bulletin board: Religion 102 / 305 / 311 / 314. Quite often hyperlinks (underlined) to sources of information etc. will be inserted in the text of the lecture. Test questions for all quizzes and exams will be derived in their entirety or in part from these lectures; see Exams in the appropriate course syllabus for details: Religion 102 / 305 / 311 / 314

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What is a 
gospel synopsis?
A Gospel Harmony
A Gospel Synopsis
Types of
Gospel Synopses
How to Use
a Gospel Synopsis

1.3 What is a Gospel Synopsis?

        When studying the Bible one occasionally comes across duplicate narratives of the same historical event. Seldom, if ever, do the duplicate narratives describe the one event the same way. What could be discovered if these duplicate descriptions were placed side by side in parallel columns? This was and remains a central point in the use of a gospel synopsis or gospel harmony. When the double or triple tradition materials are listed side by side the Bible student can do a more detailed analysis of the distinctive perspectives of each gospel writer with much greater efficiency. At a higher technical level, the use of a gospel synopsis containing the Greek text of the gospels facilitates the more detailed analysis involved in both Source Criticism and Form Criticism.
        This unit of study seeks to acquaint the student both with the tools and the procedures for using a gospel synopsis. The discussion is by nature introductory and will not produce a technical scholar. But, hopefully, a foundation will be laid for subsequent development of scholarly expertise in this area to whatever extent your interests carry you in the future.

1.3.1 A Gospel Harmony and A Gospel Synopsis
        When checking the titles of this kind of book, you will quickly notice the occurrence of one of two words appearing the in book title most of the time. It will be either 'harmony' or 'synopsis.' What is the difference? Actually, at surface glance you will not notice significant differences. But, when the presuppositions that are foundational to the organizing structure are examined, then quite important differences are detected. These will be explored below.

Other Viewpoints:
Robert W. Funk, "Synopses and Harmonies," New Gospel Parallels, vol. one: The Synoptic Gospels (1985), pp. xi-xiii.

        In recent gospel synopses, the emphasis has been on the paradigmatic or vertical dimensions of the gospel materials, as a consequence of the influence of form criticism and in reaction against older study instruments which sought to "harmonize" the fourfold canonical tradition. On the other hand, harmonies, as they are called, endeavor to weave all the elements of the tradition into a single chronological strand, into one composite order or sequence. Harmonies are therefore predominantly syntagmatic.1
        We may consider, first, the more recent synopses and then return, subsequently, to the older harmonies.
        Synopses were originally created for the microscopic comparison of words and phrases in parallel texts; a synopsis of this type is oriented primarily to source criticism. Synopses were later fabricated also for the close comparison of oral pericopes; this kind of synopsis came into being under the aegis of form criticism. Redaction criticism eventually made use of synopses as well, although special synopses seem not to have been created for that specific purpose.
        The first kind of synopsis is concerned with the synoptic problem, that is, with the problem of the relationships among written sources; the second type was interested as much or more in the oral prehistory of the materials. More recent versions of synopses, such as Huck-Greeven and its English language counterparts, attempt to combine the two interests with increasingly dubious results.
        The two types of synopses betray differing judgments about the character of the gospel materials.
        The synopsis oriented to source criticism was concerned to determine which of the gospels was chronologically prior and was employed as a source by the other two synoptic writers. Once the two-source hypothesis (and its variations) became established, the consensus formed around Mark as the original written gospel. Matthew and Luke were taken to be dependent on Mark and another source, now lost, called Q (which stands for the German word Quelle, meaning source). John dropped out of the picture as a contender for highest historical honors, and consequently dropped out of many synopses as well. The function of the source-critical synopsis then became to show how Matthew and Luke edited Mark in the process of creating their own gospels: the columnar treatment, which has once served primarily to demonstrate the priority of Mark, was converted, under redaction criticism, to the second purpose, now taken to be the more interesting question.
        After the flowering of source criticism and the consensus that consigned the priority to Mark, but before the advent of redaction criticism form criticism took the field. Karl Ludwig Schmidt, Martin Dibelius, and Rudolf Bultmann demonstrated how the written sources of the canonical gospels were preceded by a significant period of oral creativity and transmission of the Jesus tradition. If one breaks the written gospels apart at their editorial seams, clearly demarcated oral units separate themselves from the editorial dross utilized by the canonical authors to weave the pieces together into weak narratives. These oral units may be classified according to form and compared with other units of like form, in the same gospel and in other gospels. A properly designed synopsis can assist with this process of paradigmatic comparison. The cohesive editorial material is of course discarded or given a relatively low value quotient by the form critics.
        The form-critical use of synopses took the oral segments to be relatively stable and reliable in relation to the rest of the material; it placed little or no value on the narrative sequences in each of the gospels.
        The older interest of synopses in source criticism perpetuated a certain interest in sequence, particularly in Mark, although here, too, the synopsis was obviously more concerned with vertical comparison of words and phrases than with order or chronology.
        The gospel harmony, on the other hand, lacks a genuine interest in the differences revealed by paradigmatic study; its concern is to smooth the versions out and work them up into one sequence. The resulting sequence, of course, was entirely arbitrary: there were as many sequences as there were harmony editors, and none of them was congruent with the sequence presented by one of the evangelists.
        When the harmony was generally discredited, interest in sequence collapsed. That is to be regretted, although it is not to be regretted that the harmonizing strategy was abandoned. Nevertheless, sequence is an important feature of narrative and cannot be ignored in any serious study of narrative, gospel or other. The paradigmatic study of the gospels was subsequently challenged as well, but without decisive results. A renewed interest in biblical narrative, especially on the part of literary critics, has nevertheless served to infringe the domination of source, form, and redaction criticism, and thus of the paradigmatic. This new interest and its impact suggest that gospel criticism is going through a transitional stage. It is probably correct to say that the balance between the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic is being restored.
        The restoration of balance between the paradigmatic and the syntagmatic signals a new phase of gospel criticism. The paradigmatic study of the gospel materials will no longer be motivated primarily by the interests of form criticism, with its more or less overriding concern to establish the oral history of the units of material. Instead, associative comparison will range over a much broader spectrum of material -- miracle stories, pronouncement stories, chreia, parables, aphorisms drawn from all over the hellenistic world. The new aim will be to learn as much as possible about how these particular linguistic vehicles, rather than some other types of discourse, came to be employed as building blocks of the gospels.
        The syntagmatic study of the gospels will not be concerned to recover or reconstruct the historical chain of events lying behind the gospels -- which are, in any case, simply beyond reach, given our present sources -- but will take an interest in the gospel narratives in and of themselves. Narrative is a form od discourse having its own grammar; as such, narrative is a linguistic screen through which the story of Jesus must pass. By examining that screen closely, we may learn why the first raconteurs elected to narrate the things they did, in the way they did. We will certainly learn something of the rules to which they had to subscribe in narrating anything at all. We will do this, in this first instance, because the gospel narratives are, in fact, all we have; we may wish to make as much of them as possible.
        The combination of paradigmatic and syntagmatic research in their new forms will open up new horizons in understanding the gospel narratives. The New Gospel Parallels is designed to make many other uses possible, some or many of which cannot be forecast.
1David Dungan, "Theory of Synopsis Construction," Biblica 61 (1980) 305-29, gives definitions of  the "harmony" and the "synopsis" (310) which are adopted here. Dungan's analysis of the issues connected with synopsis construction and his constructive proposals are worth careful study. However, his views suffer from a narrow orientation to the synoptic problem and the question of gospel priority. These questions need not be permitted to tyrannize the design of a study instrument. Harmony
        The gospel harmony by definition attempts to harmonize the gospel accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus into a chronological framework beginning with his birth and ending with his ascension to Heaven. A chronological framework is developed using the four canonical gospels. But what basis can be used for this framework? As Robertson (below) points out, early harmonies in the modern era used the feasts described in the four gospels as hinge points and thus developed their framework around these references to Jewish feasts. But toward the end of the 1800s with advancements in Source Criticism, a new framework was developed, beginning with Broadus (1893), Stevens and Burton (1893) et als. The older assumption of being able to develop a precise chronological framework for the various pericopes in the synoptic gospels began fading to be replaced with more modest historical assumptions.
        Yet, the issue of the legitimacy of a gospel harmony remains important, especially in evangelical Christian circles. This because of the historical nature of the Christian religion, and because of the issue of the historical Jesus. The emergence of Historical Criticism at the beginning of the modern era of western culture has demonstrated the importance of these aspects. When very positive conclusions are reached about both these issues, then the next step is to attempt to reconstruct some kind of chronological framework for the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. To be certain, modern critical studies have clearly demonstrated the immense challenges involved in such an effort. But, large hurdles to clear doesn't mean that we refuse to try to find ways over them.
        The conclusions reached here will powerfully dictate some of the structure details in setting up a harmony, or a synopsis. I do concur with the viewpoint that a harmony in the strict definition of the term is impossible, given the limited data available from both the canonical gospels and from other ancient sources. But, one can develop a broad chronological framework and then develop a text formatting process that allows for the variations etc. that come when treating the scripture texts.

Other Viewpoints:
A.T. Robertson, "About Harmonies of the Gospels," A Harmony of the Gospels, (1922) pp. 253-254:

        We do not know how soon an effort was made to combine in one book the several portrayals of the life of Jesus. Luke in his Gospel (1:1-4) makes a selection of the material and incorporates data from different sources, but with the stamp o his own arrangement and style. He followed, in the main, the order of Mark's Gospel, as is easily seen. But this method is not what is meant by a harmony of the Gospels, for the result is a selection from all sorts of material (oral and written), monographs and longer treatises.
        The first know harmony is Tatian's Diatessaron (dia tessaron, by four) in the second century (about 160 A.D.) in the Syriac tongue. It was long lost, but an Arabic translation has been found and an English rendering appeared in 1894 by J. Hamlyn Hill. It is plain that Tatian has blended into one narrative our Four Gospels with a certain amount of freedom as is show by Hobson's The Diatessaron of Tatian and the Synoptic Problem (1904). There have been modern attempts also to combine into one story the records of the Four Gospels. There is a superficial advantage in such an effort in the freedom from variations in the accounts, but the loss is too great for such an arbitrary gain. The word harmony calls for such an arrangement, but it is not the method of the best modern harmonies which preserve the differences in material and style just as they are in the Four Gospels.
        In the third century Ammonius arranged the Gospels in four parallel columns (the Sections of Ammonius). This was an attempt to give a conspectus of the material in the Gospels side by side. In the fourth century Eusebius with his Canons and Sections enabled the reader to see at a glance the parallel passages in the Gospels. The ancients took a keen interest in this form of study of the Gospels, as Augustine shows.
        Of modern harmonies that by Edward Robinson has had the most influence. The edition in English appeared in 1845, that in Greek in 1846. Riddle revised Robinson's Harmony in 1889. There were many others that employed the Authorized Version, like Clark's and that divided the life of Christ according to the feasts.
        Broadus (June, 1893) followed Waddy (1887) in the use of the Canterbury Revision, but was the first to break away from the division by feasts and to [p.254] show the historical development in the life of Jesus. Stevens and Burton followed (December, 1893) Broadus within six months and, like him, used the Canterbury Revision and had an independent division of the life of Christ to show the historical unfolding of the events. These two harmonies have held the field for nearly thirty years for students of the English Gospels. In 1903 Kerr issued one in the American Standard Version and James one in the Canterbury Revision (1901).
        Harmonies of the Gospels in the Greek continued to appear, like Tischendorf's (1851, new edition 1891), Wright's A Synopsis of the Gospels in Greek (1903), Huck's Synopsis der drei ersten Evangelien (1892, English translation in 1907), Campbell's First Three Gospels in Greek (1899), A Harmony of the Synoptic Gospels in Greek by Burton and Goodspeed (1920).
        The progress in synoptic criticism emphasized the difference in subject matter and style between the Synoptic Gospels and the Fourth Gospel as appears in the works of Huck, Campbell, and Burton and Goodspeed that give only the Synoptic Gospels. Burton and Goodspeed have also an English work, A Harmony of the Synoptic Gospels for Historical and Critical Study (1917). In 1917 Sharman (Records of the Life of Jesus) gives first a harmony of the Synoptic Gospels with references to the Fourth Gospel and then an outline of the Fourth Gospel with references to the Synoptic Gospels.
        Once more in 1919 Van Kirk produced The Source Book of the Life of Christ which is only a partial harmony, for the parables and speeches of Jesus are only referred to, not quoted. But he endeavored to show the results of Gospel criticism in the text of the book. There is much useful material here for a harmony, but it is not a real harmony that can be used for the full story of the life of Jesus. Van Kirk, however, is the first writer to place Mark in the first column instead of Matthew. I had already done it in my outline before I say Van Kirk's book, but his was published first. It is an immense improvement to put Mark first. The student thus sees that the arrangement of the material is not arbitrary and whimsical, but orderly and natural. Both Matthew and Luke follow Mark's order except in the first part of Matthew where he is topical in the main. John supplements the Synoptic Gospels, particularly in the Judean (Jerusalem) Ministry.
        Slowly, therefore, progress has been made in the harmonies of the Gospels. But the modern student is able to reproduce the life and words of Jesus as has not been possible since the first century. It is a fourfold portrait of Christ that we get, but the whole is infinitely richer than the picture given by any one of the Four Gospels. The present Harmony aims to put the student in touch with the results of modern scholarly research and to focus attention on the actual story in the Gospels themselves. One may have his own opinion of the Fourth Gospel, but it is needed in a harmony for completeness.
Robert L. Thomas and Stanley N. Gundry, "Preface to the 1988 Revision," The NIV Harmony of the Gospels with Explanations and Essays, (1988), pp. 5-7.
        The roots of this Harmony extend deep into the soil of nineteenth-century biblical scholarship. The renowned John A. Broadus began teaching the life of Jesus in 1859. At the suggestion of his colleague A.T. Robertson, in 1893 he published the fruit of these thirty-plus years of instruction. Robertson himself began offering the same course in 1888, and after thirty-four years published his own Harmony, which was a revision of Broadus's first edition and had published a minor revision of Broadus's work in 1903. This lineage of gospel harmonies has gone through many printings and has been a powerful force in the church of Jesus Christ through the decades of the twentieth century.
        One of the reasons for this widespread influence is that Broadus blazed a trail that has been followed by many twentieth-century harmonists. Rather than trying to force an issue and make the feasts into turning points in Christ's ministry, as had his predecessors, he organized Jesus' ministry into well-defined periods according to a gradual progress in three realms: in Jesus' self-manifestation, in the hostility of his enemies, and in the training of the Twelve. This new approach, as Broadus noted in his preface in 1893, facilitated an understanding of "the inner movement of the history, towards that long-delayed, but foreseen and inevitable collision, in which, beyond all other instances, the wrath of man was made to praise God."
        Robertson built upon Broadus's successful endeavor with his 1922 revision by refining, expanding, and updating the work of his former mentor. It is the purpose of this 1988 revision to build upon Robertson's revision and fine tune the work even more in the light of more than six decades of Christian thought that have passed since the popular revision was first published.
        The current work, for one thing, attempts a greater precision in defining the "inner movements" of Jesus' life. This is done through the subdivision of some of the longer sections into smaller, more manageable portions. For convenience, however, Robertson's paragraph numbers have been retained and assigned lowercase suffixes, such as a, b, c, to indicate subdivisions. Also, explanatory footnotes of historical and geographical features, of theological and chronological relationships, and of a variety of other matters have been multiplied in this revision. These [p.6]  enable a reader to focus quickly upon major themes in the process of their unfolding.
        The Broadus-Robertson proposed divisions of Christ's life have been retained because of their accuracy. Differences in viewpoint about the placement of a few sections, however, are reflected in the footnotes of this revision. In such cases the placement of the text remains the same as is found in Robertson, with the preferences of the revisers indicated by bracketed section titles and Scripture references only. Another difference from Robertson lies in the choice of section titles. In practically all cases a new title that more accurately portrays the substance of the sections' content has been assigned.
        Perhaps the greatest expansion in our revision lies in the reworking of Robertson's "Notes on Special Points," found at the end of his Harmony. Criticism of the gospels and of specific features in them has been the focal point of New Testament scholarship through the middle six decades of this century. Discussion generated by this activity has necessitated a thorough reworking of these, even to the point of isolating new topics to which the essays (no long "notes") are devoted. A selected reading list appears at the conclusion of each of these twelve essays, so that those interested in pursuing the subjects further have suggested resources.
        Another marked difference from the earlier works is the Bible translation employed. In place of the English Revised Version (1881) of Broadus's Harmony and Robertson's Harmony, the New International Version has been chosen for this revision. This version is a fresh translation into smoothly flowing contemporary English that provides insights into the gospels that have often been veiled from those less familiar with the Old English style of the Revised Version.
        Other aspects of this Harmony are explained in "Explanation of the Harmony's Format and Features," and their resemblance to or difference from Robertson can be observed by those familiar with this time-honored work. Two broad comparisons are worthy of special note here. First, Broadus's column sequence for listing the texts has been followed. From left to right, it is Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. This varies from the order of Robertson, who reversed Matthew and Mark because he thought Mark wrote first and Matthew depended on him. After more than a century of popularity, the theory of Marcan priority is encountering a declining acceptance and, in the opinion of the revisers, has little to commend it in comparison with the more traditional view of Matthean priority. Hence the reversion to Broadus's sequence.
        The second comparison lies in eschatological perspective. Occasionally Broadus and Robertson reflected the amillennial or postmillennial temperament of their times. The twentieth century has witnessed a surge of interest in the premillenial interpretation of Scripture. It is the [p.7] persuasion of the revisers that a consistent grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible inevitably leads to this latter view. For this reason several of the explanatory footnotes reflect a corresponding difference in perspective from the earlier editions.
        Besides the text of the Harmony, a number of other features have been incorporated. An outline of the Harmony, which follows the probable chronological sequence of Christ's life, follows the Preface. The same outline is woven into the body of the Harmony. a glance at this outline reflects when various events occurred in relation to each other. Whenever possible, the geographical location of each event is given in the body of the Harmony. The maps at the close of the volume provide a means of identifying these places in relation to the rest of Palestine. The sources of Old Testament quotations have also been included, as have notes clarifying some of the New International Version renderings.
        Sections of the Harmony that bear a special resemblance to other sections have also been noted in the Harmony proper. All section cross-references are listed in the "Table of Section Cross-References" found at the back of the volume. This table also notes what the points of similarity between sections are. The "Table for Finding Passages in the Harmony" facilitates the locating of any passage in the Harmony by listing the passages according to chapter and verse sequence. Time lines for the whole Life of Christ, the Ministry of Christ, and Passion Week have also been included for the sake of showing broad chronological relationships.
        A harmony of the gospels provides an important means for studying the four gospels at one time. Though it could never completely replace the four gospels studied individually, it is an indispensable tool for gaining a well-rounded overview of Jesus' life in all its facts. The editors have geared this work to provide such an overview for those studying in a college or seminary. yet a serious student of Scripture studying privately and without a familiarity with New Testament Greek will be able to follow the discussion easily. Detailed and technical issues belonging to more advanced levels of scholarship have not, of course, been included in the work.
        In recent years the practice of harmonization has received increasing criticism in some scholarly circles. Even some who are evangelical have wondered about its legitimacy. Needless to say, we make no apologies for this Harmony, because we have confidence in the historical accuracy of the events recorded in the gospels. If they are historically accurate, they are in principle harmonizable into a historical sequence that can be read and studied with profit by followers of Jesus Christ. Christianity is a faith that is solidly anchored in history. It requires such an exposition of its historical foundation as is provided by a harmonization of the gospels. Synopsis
        As is detailed in some of the materials below, the gospel synopsis emerged beginning in the early 1900s in a way distinct from the gospel harmony. The major difference was the basic lack of interest in developing a chronological framework for studying the life of Christ. Instead, the gospel synopsis became a tool used largely in more technical studies beginning with Source and Form Criticism. In the endeavor to discover both the sources used by the gospel writers and also to attempt a reconstruction of the period of oral transmission of the Jesus tradition from the middle 30s to the middle 60s of the first Christian century, this tool became particularly useful in analyzing individual Greek text pericopes. This was achieved by simply placing the double or triple tradition Greek texts side by side in parallel columns. This kind of analysis depended upon a Greek text synopsis, rather than an English translation based synopsis.
        Yet, by the middle of the twentieth century the gospel synopsis appeared in English translation form, and began to blur the line of distinction between a synopsis and a harmony. A broad historical framework surfaces as an organizing structure. Various approaches then are utilized to handle the specific pericopes. Toward the end of the twentieth century, scholarly discussion here was focused more on the Source Critical assumptions that provided the format structure. Should the synopsis be based on Marcan priority or Matthean priority? Is it possible to create a format structure without making one of these assumption? Most scholars today concur that a gospel synopsis must begin with an assumption regarding the literary relationship of the synoptic gospels. Perhaps, the only way to avoid this is to produce a three volume synopsis where each canonical gospel is assumed as the organizing framework. Then, there's always the issues of the fourth gospel and of the apocryphal gospels, especially the Gospel of Thomas. How should they be treated?

Other Viewpoints:

Mahlon H. Smith's definition of "Synopsis" in his A Synoptic Gospels Primar: Parallel Texts in Matthew, Mark and Luke.

An overview. The term was classically used in literature to refer to a brief summary or abstract of a work. J. J. Griesbach's Synopsis of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark & Luke (1776), however, gave it quite a different technical meaning for biblical studies. Griesbach printed the complete text of the first three canonical gospels in columns so scholars could compare parallel passages in each text at a glance. His work was a synopsis in the root sense of the term since it let readers "see (everything) together." Thus, a gospel synopsis is not a summary but, rather, a compendium of related texts.

Griesbach's use of the name was novel but the format of printing parallel material from different texts on the same page was not. Origen's Hexapla (3rd c.CE) paralleled 6 versions of the Jewish scriptures. The Protestant reformer A. Osiander's Gospel Harmony (1537) adopted the parallel format in printing the 4 canonical Greek gospels. For more than 2 centuries NT scholars tried to improve Osiander's format, until Griesbach abandoned the attempt to coordinate John with Matthew, Mark & Luke. Griesbach chose not to use the traditional term "harmony" to describe his 3 column work, since that term in music implied blending 4 tones. After Griesbach gospel parallels generally omitted John. So Matthew, Mark & Luke were called "the synoptics" & study of their relationship has been designated "the synoptic problem." In 1964, however, K. Aland revived the 4 gospel synopsis. Yet ,the term "synoptic" is still generally used to designate only material from Matthew, Mark & Luke, since the narrative sequence & contents of John are quite independent of the other gospels.

R. W. Funk's New Gospel Parallels [Sonoma CA: Polebridge Press, 1990] introduced a further refinement of the traditional gospel synopsis by printing phrases in parallel gospel passages on the same line. The matched column synopsis aids analysis by focusing readers' attention on similarities & differences in each text. This format has been adapted for this electronic synopsis.

A second distinctive feature of New Gospel Parallels is its inclusion of non-canonical parallels to gospel passages. These cannot be ignored in determining the relationship between gospel texts, since the ms. evidence for some of these (notably, the gospel of Thomas & the Egerton gospel) is as old or older than any copy of the synoptic gospels. Here significant non-canonical parallels are presented after analysis of the synoptic source theories. This location is dictated by pedagogical logic & the margins of a computer monitor. It does not infer that the material in these passages was drafted later than Matthew, Mark & Luke.i

This sample synopsis presents a detailed analysis of the parallel passages:
          Matt 12:46-13:51
          Mark 3:31- 4:34
          Luke 8:4-21, 13:18-21.

Ernest de Witt Burton and Edgar Johnson Goodspeed, A Harmony of the Synoptic Gospels in Greek, (1920),
        As the purpose of this book is not harmonization or the discovery from the narrative of a historical order of events, but the exhibit of the facts respecting the parallelism of the Gospels as they stand, we have in general retained each of the three Gospels in its own order. The only exceptions to this statement are that the material of Matt. chaps. 8-11, in which Matthew has followed an order of his own, we have arranged in the order of the other evangelists, and that Luke 8:19-21, which though closely parallel to Mark 3:13-35 is placed by Luke after the Parables by the Sea instead of before them as in Mark, we have placed in Mark's position.
       We have found the intricate documentary relationships of the Synoptic Gospels greatly clarified by making a sharp distinction between (1) parallel sections, and (2) parallel material in non-parallel sections. Parallel sections are sections which by position and content or by content only are show to be as sections basically identical -- narratives of the same event, or discourses dealing with the same subject in closely parallel language. They may differ greatly in extent by reason of one evangelist's including material which another omits. Parallel passages in non-parallel sections are passages which, though standing in sections not basically identical, closely resemble each other in thought or language. This Harmony places in parallelism not only the whole of the two or more parallel sections but also all parallel material in non-parallel sections. The latter is printed in smaller type and sometimes for practical convenience at the bottom of the page.
Albert Huck and Heinrich Greeven, Synopsis of the First Three Gospels, 13th revised ed. (1981), p. v.
        When Albert Huck's "Synopsis of the first three Gospels" appeared in 1892 it was expressly intended to serve the hearers and readers of HJ Holtzmann's lectures on the Synoptic Gospels as a textbook. This association with a particular theory was, however, gar too close and was soon (3rd edition, 1906) given up, so that Huck could in due course of time become the tool that it still is today, a clear and full presentation of the facts which give rise to the Synoptic problem and which must be explained by any solution of it. Theories formerly widely accepted are being questioned anew and as this book was long ago so it is today concerned to maintain a strict neutrality before the various suggested solutions of the Synoptic problem. For the few instances in which it appears otherwise (simply because each possible kind of arrangement seems to favour a particular theory) I expressly declare that no such attempt to preempt the solution is intended. Even the arrangement of the columns (Mt, Mk, Lk) merely follows the order of the Gospels which is customary today.

1.3.2 Types of Gospel Synopses
        From the above discussion, you can readily conclude that the varying assumptions are going to produce a variety of gospel harmonies and synopses. Each one will work off its own adopted set of assumptions and these will produce variations in the final product, especially in formatting. Below we will explore two areas: (1) variations in format; (2) Presuppositions in Critical Methodology. Format Variations
        In general, the foundational variation will surface on whether to line up the parallel scripture texts either vertically or horizontally. In either instance the goal is to facilitate more precise analysis of the double and triple tradition materials. The comparing of the same event by two or more of the gospel writers enables the student to see both similarities and differences among the writers. How this analysis is used will depend upon the goal for such study. Vertical Column Synopses
        By far the most common format for both the harmony and the synopsis has been the vertical parallel column structure. The following example somewhat recreates this format, but with limitations because of the limits with html formatting for the internet.

Mt. 12:46-50 (NRSV) Mk. 3:31-35 (NRSV) Lk. 8:19-21 (NRSV)
(S1) 46 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 
(S2) 47 Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." 
(S3) 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." 
(S1) 1 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.
(S2) 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." 
(S3) 33 And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." 
(S1) 19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 
(S2) 20 And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you." 
(S3) 21 But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." 
In this system the parallel texts are laid out side-by-side for comparison. Additionally, in printed copies (not possible to reduplicate in html electronic format) sentences often are broken up into words and phrases which are then set up on the same lines horizontally across the page in order to more quickly notice the exact parallels of smaller units of material. A few of the synopses will also contain the Greek text on the left page and an English translation text on the opposite right page. This allows the Bible student to check both the Greek and the translation texts for parallels. A major example of this type is Aland, Kurt. Synopsis of the Four Gospels Completely Revised on the Basis of the Greek Text of the Nestle-Aland 26th Edition and Greek New Testament 3rd Edition : The Text is the Second Edition of the Revised Standard Version. Horizontal Line Synopses
        Several years ago an alternative format was introduced, which has had limited success; this layout places the parallel texts in horizontal columns stacked on top of one another. The most ambitious effort at this is the multi-volume work of Reuben J. Swanson with his The Horizontal Line Synopsis of the Gospels (Greek Edition). Volume 1, The Gospel of Matthew. [Dillsboro, NC: Western North Carolina Press, Inc., 1982.]. His approach follows the older vertical column pattern with the breaking up of sentences into smaller syntactical units with appropriate spacing to enable a visually quickly identification of the parallel units. He began this work with an English translation text version in 1975. The stated purpose of this alternative format was to achieve a more neutral Source Critical format (see topic below for details). One of the formatting issues with the vertical column synopsis is the adoption of Matthean or Markan priority Source Critical assumptions as foundational to the sequencing of the materials. Whether or not the horizontal line synopsis successfully achieves this neutrality is very debatable, but at least the intent is important to note.

(S1) 46 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 

(S2) 47 Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you." 

(S3) 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." 

(S1) 1 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 

(S2) 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." 

(S3) 33 And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother." 

(S1) 19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 

(S2) 20 And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you." 

(S3) 21 But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." Critical Presuppositions
        Before one begins to create a gospel synopsis several crucial assumptions about the three gospels and the study of the life of Jesus must be made, since these will largely shape the format of the synopsis. Three of the more important assumptions are explored below. Historical Critical Assumptions
        Whether one attempts to produce a gospel harmony or a gospel synopsis -- or a mixture of the two -- is largely determined by one's views of the historical Jesus. This gets us into the infamous Quest for the Historical Jesus debate (for a more detailed discussion see my outline and links in the Issue of the Historical Jesus discussion). Two extremes of viewpoint typically surface. The older, uncritical, and sometimes naive view that the gospels are basically historical documents telling the story of Jesus much as a modern biographer would have. The assumption of modern standards of objectivity in recounting the past plays a substantial role. This leads to the gospel harmony approach with the contention that it is the only legitimate way to set up the scripture texts telling the story of Jesus.
        The other extreme is the deep skepticism over whether or not a historical person named Jesus of Nazareth ever lived or not. The rigid application of emerging definitions of history and standards of evaluating sources that characterized the early years of the developing Historical Critical Methodology in the 1700s produced high levels of skepticism regarding how much reliable data could be gleaned from the canonical gospels in order to write a biography of the life of Jesus. This led to the rejection of the gospel harmony approach in favor of the gospel synopsis approach as a study tool for the life of Jesus in the gospels. One of the more intriguing examples of this is the work of the early American president Thomas Jefferson [Jefferson, Thomas, Richard Francis Weymouth, and Henry E. Jackson. The Thomas Jefferson Bible Undiscovered Teachings of Jesus. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1923.]. Jefferson's English Deism religious views led him to totally reject all aspects of the supernatural in the gospel accounts as having any historical credibility. Thus his 'harmony' of the life of Jesus only included the teaching and actions of Jesus that gave no hint of the supernatural.
        The viewpoint taken here stresses the basic historical reliability of the content of the synoptic gospels, but at the same time seeks to take into full account the severe limits of the gospel materials for reconstructing a full account of Jesus life and ministry. The limits of the canonical gospels in providing historical data prevent any successful biography of Jesus from being written while using modern standards of biographical writing. The modern Criteria for Authenticity employed in the current Quest for the Historical Jesus by the so-called Jesus' Seminar represent a severely skeptical set of assumptions far too heavily dependent upon the old, outmoded empirical views of history. These flow out of the modern western 'Scientific Methodology' which begins with doubt and questioning of the trustworthiness of everything. This negative starting assumption flies in the face of the character and integrity of the gospel writers whose spiritual experience with the resurrected Jesus provided them with a concern to tell the story of Jesus with truthfulness and honesty. To me, questioning and skepticism only become legitimate when the available data legitimately raises uncertainty about what may have actually happened during the earthly life of Jesus. To be sure, such instances do arise when studying the canonical gospels. But this is a very different stance than beginning with the assumption that nothing written in the canonical gospels can be trusted at all. The gospels, indeed, aren't biographies of Jesus. Instead, as Redactional Critical studies have clearly demonstrated, they were written as 'propaganda' pieces. That is, each gospel writer had a theological perspective about the religious, spiritual significance of Jesus of Nazareth and was fore mostly concerned to communicate that understanding with his initial readership as a means of encouraging faith in and commitment to Jesus as the divinely sent Savior of the world. But this doesn't mean that reliable historical content didn't serve as the building block sources for their telling the story of Jesus.
        Thus we will approach the study of the life of Jesus with a basic confidence in the reliability of the information in the canonical gospels. But we will not be willing to duck hard questions nor sweep difficult historical issues under the carpet so as to pretend they don't exist. Source Critical Assumptions
        This has to do with the 'literary' relationship among the synoptic gospels. Although many varieties of viewpoint exist today, the two more commonly viewpoints are the Holtzmann Marcan Priority view, usually labeled the Two Source Hypothesis, and the Griesbach Matthean Priority view, usually labeled in its current expression as the Two Gospel Hypothesis. These two we will give some attention to in this study.
        Two Source Hypothesis.  This view works off the assumption that Mark was the first canonical gospel to be written and that Matthew and Luke additionally made use of a second source termed Q (for the German word Quelle meaning source). You should read the details of this both in the web site Synoptic Theories & Hypotheses at and especially in W.G. Kümmel's Introduction to the New Testament (Section 5, "The Synoptic Problem," in Part I.A. in the Cokesbury iPreach Bible Reference materials under Biblical Reference). Prof. Kümmel has a detailed, extremely important explanation and defense of the Marcan priority view.
        In this approach the assumption is that Mark wrote his gospel story first. Later Matthew and Luke, working independently of each other, had access to copies of Mark's gospel and a collection, largely of Sayings materials, as a second source. From these two sources, and also from others sources that each had exclusive access to (the M and the L sources in Streeter's Four Source Theory), these subsequent gospel documents were composed.

        Two Gospel Hypothesis This view has two segments to its existence among NT scholars. The older view reaches back to Johann Jakob Griesbach who first proposed a detailed defense of it in 1783. Griesbach's view did not gain substantial influence because of the dominance of the Marcan priority view which controlled gospel scholarship for most all the 1800s and 1900s.  Then in the middle of the 1900s Professor Bill Farmer began a crusade to revise the old Griesbach view with substantial revisions and updating. Over the past fifty years this alternative view has found substantial support in the work of NT scholarship on both sides of the Atlantic, so that it now represents a serious alternative view to the Marcan priority perspective.
        In this perspective, Matthew was the first to compose his gospel, then Luke wrote his utilizing material from Matthew (thus eliminating the need for the Q document hypothesis in the Two Source view). Finally, Mark used both Matthew and Luke to compose his much shorter gospel story of Jesus.

        Synoptic Theories & Hypotheses at
            An extremely helpful web site that explains in simple terms the fundamental issues involved here.

        W.G. Kümmel's Introduction to the New Testament (Section 5, "The Synoptic Problem," in Part I.A. in the Cokesbury iPreach Bible Reference materials under Biblical Reference).
            This is a most important source for understanding the details of the issue of the Synoptic Problem!

         "Synoptic Problem," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (in volume 4 in the Cokesbury iPreach Bible Reference materials under Dictionaries, Handbooks, and One Volume Commentaries). Form Critical Assumptions
        Form Criticism, first labeled in its German origin Formgeschichte (history of forms), builds on the Source Critical conclusions, but takes its concerns forward (history of mid-first century Christianity) instead of backward (reaching back to the uses of existing written sources) as does Source Criticism. Its work is in two specific areas: (1) the identification of established literary patterns of written expression (genres) in the synoptic gospel material, and (2) how those forms communicated Christian teaching in early Christianity beginning in the second half of the first Christian century.
        Thus, comparative study of ancient Jewish and Greco-Roman literature to develop a background understanding of existing genres of written materials was foundational to this approach. This was then applied to the contents of the synoptic gospels to see both similarities and differences. The similarities identified connecting links of early Christianity to both Jewish and Greco-Roman religious/philosophical thinking in the ancient world. The differences highlighted the creativity of the early Christianity community to develop new, fresh modes of expression in order to better communicate its understanding of the Gospel message. Once these genres at many different levels of writing had been identified in the synoptic gospels, the challenge was to probe how these patterns of expression were used in the early church to address issues about the nature and function of the Christian religion. This is perhaps the least successful and lasting part of the older Form Critical methodology. One positive contribution was the refocusing of attention on the book of Acts in the NT and its close connection to the canonical gospels.

        "Form Criticism," Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible (in volume 2 in the Cokesbury iPreach Bible Reference materials under Dictionaries, Handbooks, and One Volume Commentaries).

1.3.3 How to Use a Gospel Synopsis

Methodology for Color Coding:

        Mark Goodacre's suggestions are quite helpful and will be followed here; see the page, The Synoptic Problem: a Way through the Maze. His scheme of color coding the synoptic gospel texts is simple:

Matthew: blue
Mark: red
Luke: yellow
Matthew + Mark: purple [ i.e. blue + red ]
Matthew + Luke: green [i.e. blue + yellow ]
Mark + Luke: orange [ i.e. red + yellow ]
Matthew + Mark + Luke: brown [ i.e. blue + red + yellow ]
The procedure is rather simple to follow. Dr. Goodacre has samples posted on the above web site to illustrate what is involved in the process. This should be done electronically, if possible, using a computer word processing software (e.g., MS Word, Corel Word Perfect) or web authoring software (Netscape Composer, Adobe GoLive). The colors can be identified in the Text Color icon in most software. See the below example from MS Word XP:
The above coding system needs to be followed exactly in order for the conclusions (see below) to be accurate. Let's use the above pericope as our working text. I've inserted the Greek text for each gospel pericope along side the NRSV translation. This enables one to see more clearly the precise differences that may not be readily apparent in an English translation. The use of bold face font style helps to bring out the color coding better.
Mt. 12:46-50 (NRSV) Mk. 3:31-35 (NRSV) Lk. 8:19-21 (NRSV)
(S1) 46 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 46    ~Eti aujtou' lalou'nto" toi'" o[cloi" ijdou; hJ mhvthr kai; oiJ ajdelfoi; aujtou' eiJsthvkeisan e[xw zhtou'nte" aujtw'/ lalh'sai. 
(S2) 47 Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you. [47 ei\pen dev ti" aujtw'/,  jIdou; hJ mhvthr sou kai; oiJ ajdelfoiv sou e[xw eJsthvkasin zhtou'ntev" soi lalh'sai.
(S3) 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."  48 oJ de; ajpokriqei;" ei\pen tw'/ levgonti aujtw'/, Tiv" ejstin hJ mhvthr mou kai; tivne" eijsi;n oiJ ajdelfoiv mou; 49 kai; ejkteivna" th;n cei'ra aujtou' ejpi; tou;" maqhta;" aujtou' ei\pen,  jIdou; hJ mhvthr mou kai; oiJ ajdelfoiv mou. 50 o^sti" ga;r a]n poihvsh/ to; qevlhmatou' patrov" mou tou' ejn oujranoi'" aujtov" mou ajdelfo;" kai; ajdelfh; kai; mhvthr ejstivn. 
(S1) 31 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 31 Kai; e[rcetaihJ mhvthr aujtou' kai; oiJ ajdelfoi; aujtou' kai; e[xw sthvkonte" ajpevsteilan pro;" aujto;n kalou'nte" aujtovn. 
(S2) 32 A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you. 32 kai; ejkavqhto peri; aujto;n o[clo", kai; levgousin aujtw'/,  jIdou; hJ mhvthr sou kai; oiJ ajdelfoiv sou [kai; aiJ ajdelfai sou] e[xw zhtou'sivn se. 
(S3) 33 And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" 34 And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."  33 kai; ajpokriqei;" aujtoi'" levgei, Tiv" ejstin hJ mhvthr mou kai; oiJ ajdelfoiv [mou];4 kai; peribleyavmeno" tou;" peri; aujto;n kuvklw/ kaqhmevnou" levgei, #Ide hJ mhvthr mou kai; oiJ ajdelfoiv mou. 35 o^" [ga;r] a]n poihvsh/ to; qevlhma tou' qeou', ou|to" ajdelfov" mou kai; ajdelfh; kai; mhvthr ejstivn. 
(S1) 19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd.  19 Paregevneto de; pro;" aujto;n hJ mhvthr kai; oiJ ajdelfoi; aujtou' kai; oujk hjduvnanto suntucei'n aujtw'/ dia; to;n o[clon.
(S2) 20 And he was told, "Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you. 20 ajphggevlh de; aujtw/'/,  JH mhvthr sou kai; oiJ ajdelfoiv sou eJsthvkasin e[xw ijdei'n qevlontev" se. 
(S3) 21 But he said to them, "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it."  21 oJ de; ajpokriqei;" ei\pen pro;" aujtouv", Mhvthr mou kai; ajdelfoiv mou ou|toiv eijsin oiJ to;n lovgon tou' qeou' ajkouvonte" kai; poiou'nte". 

Although this takes some time and careful study, once it is completed the similarities and differences among the synoptic gospel writers becomes very clear. The next step in the process is to tabulate the similarities and differences in a chart listing.

Tabulation of Color Coding Results:
of all 
three synoptic 
gospel writers:
Scene 1
1. his mother and his brothers 1. standing outside 1. While he was still speaking to the crowds,
2. were
3. wanting to speak to him.
1. came
2. and
3. they sent to him and called him.
1. Then 
2. came to him
3. but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 
Scene 2
1. him
2. your mother and your brothers
3. outside
4. you 
1. Look  1. are standing 1. Someone told
2. wanting to speak to
1. A crowd was sitting around him
2. and sisters are 
3. asking for 
1. And he was told
2. wanting to see
Scene 3
1. said
2. my mother and my brothers
1. replied
2. "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" 
3. And 
4. Here are
5. For whoever does the will of 
6. is my brother and sister and mother.
1.  But
1. of God 
1. to the one who had told him this
2. pointing to his disciples
3. my Father in heaven
1. And
2. looking at those who sat around him
1. are those who hear the word 
2. and do it.

Interpreting the Results of your Analysis:

1. With Source Critical Concerns:
        In very technical objectives the NT scholar would carefully examine the words, phrases, etc. of the Greek text for signals suggesting whether Mark was the written source for Matthew and Mark (Two Source Hypothesis), or whether Matthew was the source for first Luke, and then whether Mark made use of both Matthew and Luke (Two Gospel Hypothesis).
        Once a conclusion is reached in this regard, then each pericope is exegeted against this background of literary dependency.

2. With Form Critical Concerns:
        Form Criticism, especially in its earlier expressions, typically assumed the Two Source hypothesis mentioned above, and once it had isolated out the pericope units for each gospel document, then focused on an attempted explanation of how the distinctives of each pericope were developed by each gospel writer to address similar but distinctively different situations in the initial targeted readers, or communities -- as they then to be labeled -- that the gospel writer was addressing. The concern is to understand as much as possible about both the oral transmission period (30s to 60s) and the developed communities (60s to 80s) at the time of the writing of each document. This created three settings for analyzing the gospel texts: the Sitz im Leben Jesu (the setting of the historical Jesus, where authentic says of Jesus were presupposed); the Sitz im Leben Kirche (the setting of the early church from the 30s to the 60s); and the Sitz im Leben Verfassers (the setting of the gospel writer and his targeted community in the 60s to the 80s). The work of Dibelius and Bultmann who were early pioneers in Form Critical studies (in German it is called Formgeschichte [history of forms]) made significant contributions to the study of both the life of Jesus and early Christianity. For Rudolf Bultmann, the older (first) quest for the historical Jesus had run into a dead end by the end of the 1800s and left honest scholarship with no conclusion but that no real proof that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived. His way around this in order to salvage a meaningful religious faith was to suggest that the vast majority of the gospel material was a interpretative creation of apostolic Christianity in an effort to find relevance of the resurrected, spiritual Christ to issues and situations being faced by various Christian communities from the late 30s onward. That is the period of time largely described in the Book of Acts in the NT. Thus in this approach the gospels supplement the story of early Christianity contained in Acts, much more than they inform us about Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore the focus of exegesis is upon the Sitz im Leben (Kirche and especially Verfasser). But many severe limitations on this methodology began surfacing very quickly starting in the early 1900s. Most of Bultmann's assumptions about the historical Jesus have been profoundly revised or discarded. The obvious compositional intention of each gospel to tell the story of Jesus of Nazareth, rather than that of the Christ of faith, to their individual audiences has been reaffirmed, rather than rejected as Bultmann largely did.
        Yet, elements of this approach remain important and vital to insightful exegesis of the gospel texts. This will become clearer as we proceed further.
        Additionally, the later Redactional Critical methodology utilized the literary analysis aspects of Form Criticism especially as a part of its probing of the gospel documents in order to distill out the theology, or the religious perspective, of each gospel writer. Its holistic concerns to see the 'big picture' theologically of each gospel has served as a helpful corrective to some of the deficiencies of the Form Critical approaches. The Sitz im Leben (Verfassers) concern of Form Criticism remains a major concern of Redactional Critics, only with a theological distinctive twist.

3. With Exegetical Concerns:
        When the Bible student begins to interpret the Jesus tradition seriously with detailed analysis, some preliminary decisions will have to be made in order to provide starting points for a detailed exegesis of the gospel passages in parallel with one another. The issue of the perceived literary connection among the synoptic gospels will need a decision. Although impressed by the Two Gospel Hypothesis myself, I gravitate toward the older, more widely established Two Source view that understands Mark being the first written gospel, then followed by Matthew and then Luke who worked with a source common to them, the so-called Q source. Additionally, the interest in the later setting of mid-first century Christianity that grew out of the Form Critical and later Redactional Critical concerns is legitimate. The initial readership of these gospel documents were the different Christian communities who represented a second generation of Christians, most of whom had never seen Jesus in person. They were largely from a dramatically different ethnic and linguistic background. Thus, the issue of the relevance of what Jesus said and did while on earth to their spiritual needs and interests is vitally important. In my estimation, the canonical gospels were written to address this very concern. Therefore, whatever can be gleaned about these early Christian communities helps us see more clearly how each gospel writer interpreted the significance of Jesus to his targeted audience.
        Now for some more pragmatic concerns. How does one make sense out of the above tabulation of similarities and differences with some of these starting assumptions discussed in the two topics above? Several observations come to the surface.
        1. Luke places less emphasis on this episode than do Matthew and Mark. His narrative is much shorter and generic in its descriptive details. The question then arises: was Luke less interested in the relationship that the adult Jesus had with his fleshly family? If so, then why? The answer to that question lies in tracing out other Lucan pericopes that possibly touch on Jesus' family.
        2. While true kinship with Jesus is based on knowing and doing the Father's will in Matthew and Mark, in Luke it is based on hearing and doing the word of God. All three see Jesus addressing the issue of spiritual kinship, but Luke defines that on the basis of the orally preached Gospel message. Matthew and Mark see it defined on a broader basis of the will of God. Is there something in the Lucan community that needs addressing in regard to the importance of the preached Gospel message? Perhaps so. A concordance tracing of the phrase 'word of God' in Luke reveals the use of this phrase four times (5:1; 8:11; 8:21; 11:28), over against one each in Matthew (15:6) and in Mark (7:13). In Matthew and Mark this phrase is another way of saying 'Old Testament' while in Luke it is synonymous with 'Gospel' in oral proclamation. Obeying this Gospel proclamation is a significant issue for Luke also in his use of the expression.
        3. Somewhat surprisingly Matthew and Mark include a fuller set of family terms -- mother, brothers and sisters -- while Luke only refers to 'mother and brothers.' Luke typically includes social groups that first century Jewish patriarchal tradition would not emphasize, but here Mark and Matthew do this. Assuming Matthew is using Mark here -- the expressions are identical both in the NRSV translation as well as the underlying Greek text -- then Mark is perhaps implying that Jesus' sisters shared in the apprehension over what Jesus was doing along with his mother and brothers. A concordance search of the word 'sister*' reveals a common pattern in both Mark (5x) and Matthew (7x) of 'brother and sister,' while Luke (1x) seldom makes use of the phrase 'brother and sister.' This pericope is consistent with the larger synoptic gospel patterns at this point.
        4. Luke tones down the hostility in Jesus' family when they sought to talk to him by giving a reason why they waited outside the house and insisted on Jesus coming out to them: but they could not reach him because of the crowd. Matthew and Mark present the episode in more confrontational tones, thus highlighting the early disenchantment of Jesus' own family members with his developing ministry. This disenchantment is additionally stressed in Matthew and Mark by the way Jesus responded to being informed that they wanted to talk to him. These two gospels add "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" This is in contrast to Luke who glosses over this part with a much milder: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it." The Marcan gospel has stressed various sources of opposition to Jesus, and includes his family in that. Matthew picked up on this Marcan emphasis, but Luke toned it down considerably.
        5. Matthew uses his typical Jewish way of referring to God by the expression my Father in heaven, while Mark and Luke, writing to largely Gentiles audiences, use the more direct term God.

        These are some of the possible implications of such comparative study. Others can be gleaned for more detailed analysis. You should pay close attention to commentaries that emphasize the above interpretative strategies in order to glean additional insights than those you discover through personal study. One excellent example of this type of commentary is the individual volume commentary on Matthew by Robert Gundry (Matthew: A Commentary on His Literary and Theological Art [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982]). Below is an excerpt from pages 248-250 on Matt. 12:46-50:

In this section Matthew goes back to Markan material that follows the sayings on blasphemy of the Spirit and precedes, as here, the parable of the sower. Luke's parallel appears in a context quite different from both Matthew's and Mark's contexts. This material takes the place of Luke's similar material concerning the blessedness of those who hear and observe the word of God (Luke 11:27-28, omitted by Matthew). By choosing this rather than that and by introducing it now rather than earlier (i.e., closely after the sayings about blasphemy of the Spirit [vv 31-32], as in Mark), Matthew enables himself to finish chaps. 11-12 with a contrast between Jesus' true relatives and those who persecute Jesus and his disciples. In addition, Matthew can now move into his next major section, chap. 13, without breaking stride. He will simply continue with Mark.
        12:46 (Mark 3:31-32; Luke 8:19-20) The genitive absolute construction behind "While he was still speaking to the crowds" characterizes Matthew's style. "While he was yet speaking" comes from Mark 5:35 (cf. Luke 8:49) and compensates for Matthew's omitting these words (and much else, too) between 9:22 and 23. The crowds comes from Mark 3:32. But there a crowd sits around Jesus and speaks to him; here Jesus is speaking to the crowds. His topic is the evil generation of scribes and Pharisees (vv 38-54). As often, Matthew puts the crowds in the plural (despite their being inside a house!). The reason is probably that they represent the many from all nations who will become disciples (28:19). This entire genitive absolute will reappear as an insertion in 17:5 (see also 26:47; Mark 14:43; Luke 22:47).
        Jesus' mother and brothers stand outside (i.e., outside the house; see 13:1). Typically, Matthew inserts ijdouv (34,9). This parallels the ijdouv with which someone announces their presence to Jesus (v 47; Mark 3:32) and the distinctive ijdouv with which Jesus identifies his true relatives (v 49). Matthew conforms vv 46 and 47 to each other in further respects, too. In v 46 he omits Mark's "comes," turns Mark's participle "standing" into the finite verb "stood" (jeiJsthvkeisan; see 13:2 for another distinctive pluperfect of this verb), substitutes "seeking" for Mark's "they sent to him" in order to gain a parallel with "seeking" in v 47, and replaces Mark's "calling him" with "to speak to him" for correspondence with "speaking to the crowds" in his immediately preceding genitive absolute. Mark's "An a crowd was sitting around him" drops out because matthew has already referred to crowds in the genitive absolute and inserted "around him" in 8:18 (cf. the comments ad loc.). We now see that advancing the crowds not only provided Matthew with a transition; it also enabled him to juxtapose Jesus' mother and brothers alongside them.
        The reference in 1:25 to Joseph's not having sexual intercourse with Mary till Mary had given birth to Jesus makes it natural to think of Jesus' brothers as younger half-brothers. For a lengthy discussion of various possibilities, see J. B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (reprinted, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1957) 252-91.
       Hopefully from this you can begin to sense the importance of doing the comparative studies of parallel pericopes in the Jesus tradition. And also, the helpfulness of the gospel synopsis as a tool for doing this study. The application of the color coding methodology will significantly contribute to skill development in spotting the similarities and differences in these gospel parallels.
        This work should be done on every one of the Exegesis Assignments that involve double or triple tradition texts! The setting up of the parallels is done and these html files are hyperlinked to the pericope title in the list of Presentation Assignments.


For an online bibliography of resources for the study of the synoptic gospels see Torrey Seland's page, "Articles etc related to the Synoptic Gospels," at
Online Gospel Synopses:

Online Pages for Gospel Synopsis study:

Hardcopy Sources:

For a detailed listing of print volumes see New Testament Bibliography: Gospel Synopses and Harmonies in the Bibliography series at

Dungan, David. "Theory of Synopsis Construction," Biblica 61 (1980), 305-329.

Greeven, Heinrich. "The Gospel Synopsis from 1776 to the present day," J.J. Griesbach: Synoptic and text-critical Studies 1776-1976, vol. 34 in the SNTS Monograph Series, 22-49.

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