By definition the " Synoptics" are
those gospels that report the same general outline for the story of Jesus.
There is enough sustained agreement between the sequence of sayings &
deeds that Matthew, Mark & Luke ascribe to Jesus to convince most scholars
that the story-line of these gospels comes from the same text. Determining
which text is probably the basis of the others is the work of source
Within this common synoptic
narrative framework, however, there is considerable variation in the sequence
of items reported by Matthew, Mark & Luke. Some pericopes
included by two are missing in the third. Others are unique to one
gospel. Even pericopes shared by two or more gospels are not always
reported in the same sequence.
Since self-contained sayings may
be recalled in virtually any sequence & be repeated almost anywhere, it is
not surprising to find that one of the major differences between the synoptic
gospels is in the logical syntax of the aphorisms & parables they
ascribe Jesus. The fact that 2 or 3 gospels repeat several blocks of stories
or sayings in the same order is evidence of the dependence of the author of
one text on another. So when one or two gospels diverge from the
sequence of material in the third, it is evident that some author(s)
deliberately edited the original source by inserting, omitting or transposing
certain items. Such changes account for the fact that the segments of
the synoptic outlines indicated in the table above vary in length according to
Even if these differences in
sequence do not alter the interpretation of the passages themselves, they are
important indications of the viewpoint & logic of a particular author
(Matthew, Mark or Luke). For an editor would only bother to alter a text
he was copying to improve it for some purpose -- adding things he thought
important, omitting distractions & rearranging items to make a more
persuasive presentation. Analysis of the patterns of changes that one author
made in a text composed by another is the work of redaction
These Synoptic Gospels Outlines
are prepared as a tool to further study of the Synoptic
Problem. The string of items peculiar to each gospel is presented in tact.
Units unique to a particular gospel are highlighted by a distinctive pastel
Units common to all three gospels
are on a teal background [see key below].
Those common to only two are distinguished according to patterns. An
agreement of either Matthew or Luke with Mark is presented in turquoise. A
unit common to Matthew & Luke but omitted by Mark is represented by deep
beige. While those who presuppose that Luke used Matthew might
prefer another color scheme, this has been chosen to illustrate the textual
basis for the Two Source Hypothesis.
Where the same item appears in
parallel sequence in another gospel that parallel appears on the same line.
Lines are numbered simply according to the cumulative sequence of material
determined by the gospels themselves. Where the same unit appears at a
different point in the narrative sequence of Matthew, Mark or Luke it will
appear on more than one line, with a hyper-link -- indicated by square
brackets [ ] - to the point(s) in the cumulative synoptic sequence where
it is found in the other gospel(s).