Scholars have repeatedly stated that the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are linked together by various similarities. As such, the three writings have been united under the entitlement Synoptic Gospels. The majority of literary investigations rely on equivalences in content, style, and order of events being similar and frequent in the Synoptic Gospels to such extend that they appear vastly separated from John's. Cursive analyses of the gospels have defined the questioning of the interrelationship between the three as problematic. There are those who claim various priorities, such as Matthew's preceding Mark's and vice versa, while other scholars, specifically Christians, avoid addressing the matter. The latter deny the existence of a literary interrelationship and maintain strong beliefs that the three gospels were written independently. From a religious point-of-view, there would be no need to explain or emphasize on similarities because of the gospels' divine nature. Our goal for this paper is to present the Synoptic Problem as understood by different scholars, looking to emphasize on particular similarities and differences between the three gospels. Furthermore, we will look into various solutions which have been sought to bring about a result in regards to the Synoptic Problem, inquiring into the most appropriate solution.
Thus, in addressing the Synoptic Gospels, two fundamental issues have been considered by scholars throughout literary investigations. Determining the literary interrelationship between the three has been considered primordial and secondly, scholars have tried to relate the Synoptic Gospels to John's gospel. Christian and, for that matter, religious views continue to render it unnecessary to thrive on similarities between the Synoptic Gospels for reasons less scientific and more miraculously bound, claiming the Holy Spirit's superiority. While the role of the Church in society has changed and, some would think, developed, somewhere until the Middle Ages, studying the Bible was strictly an instrument by which the latter could enforce dogmatic beliefs. It was not until after the Reformation that a new emphasis was sought in regards to biblical study that extended the character of dogmatic theology to literary criticism. Although this was a gradual and rather long process, by the second half of the eighteenth century, changes emerged as to the way religious literature was interpreted. Thus, more rationalist approaches sought to balance the revelatory character of religious literature in favor of historical perspectives. It was around this time, specifically, towards the end of the eighteenth century that the three books of the New Testament started to be referred to as the Synoptic Gospels. Studying the writings from different new perspectives allowed scholars to become aware of the striking similarities that existed between the three. Being placed side by side, the Synoptic Gospels became subject of various observations and interpretations throughout time. The most commonly approached issues have been the order in which the gospels were written, the wording interdependence, the identical parenthetical material common to the three, and Luke's preface. As Loveday Alexander has stated, ?the content of Luke's preface is classic for the scientific tradition. (1993, 105). This is to say that the style of writing in the preface actually separates it from the rest of the book. Its formality is believed to indicate the author's intention to present his work to contemporary readers in a traditional historical view.
There are certain common elements which can be found in all of the three gospels. The life of Jesus is, from a narrative point-of-view, similarly depicted by Mark, Matthew, and Luke. In pursuing such similarities, scholars have separated certain distinct topics in the gospels so that particular features may be easily traced. George Ladd, who believed that the matter of the gospels' interdependence resembles today's unauthorized use of another's writings, addressed the Synoptic Gospels in the manner depicted above. He analyzed John's baptism, the world of the spirits, the Kingdom of God, etc. And followed the link between the three's approach of the matters quite extensively in his work A Theology of the New Testament. He stated that ?most of the eschatology of Jesus as reported by the Synoptics has to do with the events attending the coming of the eschatological Kingdom of God. (Ladd 1993, 196) His findings concluded that the issue is portrayed in the three gospels, although not related in order, however, reproduced similarly in the presentation of ideas. Thus, Mark, Matthew, and Luke include in their gospels many events and teachings of Jesus which are similar in descriptive terms but differ occasionally in their order of appearance. Analyzing strictly the content of the three gospels, Mark's material can be found in Matthew and Luke almost entirely, which is why the relationship between the Synoptic Gospels has often been acknowledged and emphasized on. Matthew's gospel includes around 612 verses of Mark's 662 and the majority is arranged in the same order. The similarity between the two gospels is often based on the explanation that although Matthew appears to have written his gospel from a personal point-of-view, the structure of his sentences and his choice of wording indicate that, either he copied texts from other gospels or that each copied from one another or that indeed they all copied from a common source. This is the synoptic problem that poses challenges to the traditional vision. Moreover, a characteristic structure of the three gospels is represented by the geographical -- historic feature. Jesus' work is featured in three steps which include Galilee, the road to Jerusalem and Jesus' last week. In fact, this is acknowledged as among the most common particularities of the synoptic parallelism. However, the tripartite division is not subject to Jesus' years on earth. But differences in regards to certain features do prevail occasionally in addressing the Synoptic Gospels unanimously. For example, Luke is commonly accepted as the writer of his gospel, although supposedly the author is anonymous. The picturing of events is set in a different order in his gospel so as to illustrate the themes more relevantly. However, while in Mark, Jesus gathers his apostles before he starts performing miracles, Luke places the recruitment scene after the first miracles have already happened. Such differences further contribute to solving the synoptic problem.
When scholars engage in critical study of the three gospels, one of three methods is usually preferred: the Two-/Four Source View, the Two -- Gospel View, or the Independence View. Given that scholars have identified an 89% of Mark's material within Matthew's gospel and a 72 percentage in Luke, many choose to regard Mark as the first to have written his gospel. Thus, quite a few rely their investigations on what the first method (which is also referred to as the Markan priority) assumes, that the other two gospels were highly dependant on Mark and the nonextant document defined as Q. Moreover, another document by the name of "M" has been identified as an additional source for Matthew, besides Mark and Q, while "L" is believed to have represented a subsequent source of inspiration for Luke (Thomas 2002, 9). However, such assumed dependencies are not subject to modern thinking alone but have been indicated much earlier by Augustine himself. He believed, however, that it was Matthew who wrote first while Mark was inspired by the former and Luke, consequently, was inspired by Mark. There are also opinions as to Matthew having been the first of writers whom Luke used as an inspiration and Mark allegedly based his gospel on the other two. A third suggestion implies that Mark indeed wrote his gospel first while Matthew and Luke independently used his book as inspiration. Defenders of Mathean priority allude to such facts as Matthew's writing depicting his occupation of a tax collector. From their point-of-view, there are numerous relevant references that would indicate the monetary knowledge and that it would have been predominantly accessible only to a tax collector. This is among the reasons why Matthew is rendered as the first writer.
The Synoptic Problem has also been questioned in terms of its actual existence. This is to say that, if one agrees that divine inspiration is the source for the existing similarities, than this would also explain the existence of differences. Thus, there would be no problem to begin with. However, the aforementioned option has been rendered as merely a possibility which is not the same as being an actual fact. There are also scholars who believe that oral tradition may be explanatory in as well defining both the similarities and differences. However, the solution is plain in its explanations of the actual literary interdependence of the gospels. What would indeed appear as the most appropriate solution to the Synoptic Problem is the Markan priority. Although as David Neville has acknowledged, ?others have difficulty with the priority of Mark. This had not caused them to abandon the Markan hypothesis but to modify it be appealing to earlier or later recensions or editions of Mark's Gospel then appears in the New Testament. (2002, 9) Why indeed Markan priority seems to provide an actual solution to the problem is because not only is it…