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The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic Gospels because they include many of the same stories, often in a similar sequence and in similar or sometimes identical wording. They stand in contrast to John, whose content is largely distinct. The term synoptic (Latin : synopticus; Greek : συνοπτικός, romanized: synoptikós) comes via Latin from the Greek σύνοψις, synopsis, i.e. "(a) seeing all together, synopsis"; [n 1] the sense of the word in English, the one specifically applied to these three gospels, of "giving an account of the events from the same point of view or under the same general aspect" is a modern one. 
This strong parallelism among the three gospels in content, arrangement, and specific language is widely attributed to literary interdependence.  The question of the precise nature of their literary relationship—the synoptic problem—has been a topic of debate for centuries and has been described as "the most fascinating literary enigma of all time".  While no conclusive solution has been found yet, the longstanding majority view favors Marcan priority, in which both Matthew and Luke have made direct use of the Gospel of Mark as a source, and further holds that Matthew and Luke also drew from an additional hypothetical document, called Q . 
Broadly speaking, the synoptic gospels are similar to John: all are composed in Koine Greek, have a similar length, and were completed within a century of Jesus' death. They also differ from non-canonical sources, such as the Gospel of Thomas, in that they belong to the ancient genre of biography,   collecting not only Jesus' teachings, but recounting in an orderly way his origins, his ministry and miracles, and his passion and resurrection.
In content and in wording, though, the synoptics diverge widely from John but have a great deal in common with each other. Though each gospel includes some unique material, the majority of Mark and roughly half of Matthew and Luke coincide in content, in much the same sequence, often nearly verbatim. This common material is termed the triple tradition.
The triple tradition, the material included by all three synoptic gospels, includes many stories and teachings:
The triple tradition's pericopae (passages) tend to be arranged in much the same order in all three gospels. This stands in contrast to the material found in only two of the gospels, which is much more variable in order.  
The classification of text as belonging to the triple tradition (or for that matter, double tradition) is not always definitive, depending rather on the degree of similarity demanded. Matthew and Mark report the cursing of the fig tree,   a single incident, despite some substantial differences of wording and content. In Luke, the only parable of the barren fig tree  , is in a different point of the narrative. Some would say that Luke has extensively adapted an element of the triple tradition, while others would regard it as a distinct pericope.
An illustrative example of the three texts in parallel is the healing of the leper: 
|Mt 8:2–3||Mk 1:40–42||Lk 5:12–13|
Καὶ ἔρχεται πρὸς αὐτὸν
And, calling out to him,
More than half the wording in this passage is identical. Each gospel includes words absent in the other two and omits something included by the other two.
The triple tradition itself constitutes a complete gospel quite similar to the shortest gospel, Mark. 
Mark, unlike Matthew and Luke, adds little to the triple tradition. Pericopae unique to Mark are scarce, notably two healings involving saliva  and the naked runaway.  Mark's additions within the triple tradition tend to be explanatory elaborations (e.g., "the stone was rolled back, for it was very large"  ) or Aramaisms (e.g., "Talitha kum!"  ). The pericopae Mark shares with only Luke are also quite few: the Capernaum exorcism  and departure from Capernaum,  the strange exorcist,  and the widow's mites.  A greater number, but still not many, are shared with only Matthew, most notably the so-called "Great Omission"  from Luke of Mk 6:45–8:26.
Most scholars take these observations as a strong clue to the literary relationship among the synoptics and Mark's special place in that relationship.  The hypothesis favored by most experts is Marcan priority , whereby Mark was composed first, and Matthew and Luke each used Mark, incorporating much of it, with adaptations, into their own gospels. A leading alternative hypothesis is Marcan posteriority , with Mark having been formed primarily by extracting what Matthew and Luke shared in common. 
An extensive set of material—some two hundred verses, or roughly half the length of the triple tradition—are the pericopae shared between Matthew and Luke, but absent in Mark. This is termed the double tradition.  Parables and other sayings predominate in the double tradition, but also included are narrative elements: 
Unlike triple-tradition material, double-tradition material is structured differently in the two gospels. Matthew's lengthy Sermon on the Mount, for example, is paralleled by Luke's shorter Sermon on the Plain, with the remainder of its content scattered throughout Luke. This is consistent with the general pattern of Matthew collecting sayings into large blocks, while Luke does the opposite and intersperses them with narrative. 
Besides the double tradition proper, Matthew and Luke often agree against Mark within the triple tradition to varying extents, sometimes including several additional verses, sometimes differing by a single word. These are termed the major and minor agreements (the distinction is imprecise   ). One example is in the passion narrative, where Mark has simply, "Prophesy!"  while Matthew and Luke both add, "Who is it that struck you?"  
The double tradition's origin, with its major and minor agreements, is a key facet of the synoptic problem. The simplest hypothesis is Luke relied on Matthew's work or vice versa. But many experts, on various grounds, maintain that neither Matthew nor Luke used the other's work. If this is the case, they must have drawn from some common source, distinct from Mark, that provided the double-tradition material and overlapped with Mark's content where major agreements occur. This hypothetical document is termed Q , for the German Quelle, meaning "source". 
Matthew and Luke contain a large amount of material found in no other gospel.[ citation needed ] These materials are sometimes called "Special Matthew" or M and "Special Luke" or L .
Both Special Matthew and Special Luke include distinct opening infancy narratives and post-resurrection conclusions (with Luke continuing the story in his second book Acts). In between, Special Matthew includes mostly parables, while Special Luke includes both parables and healings.
Special Luke is notable for containing a greater concentration of Semitisms than any other gospel material. 
Luke gives some indication of how he composed his gospel in his prologue:  
Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed. 
This section needs additional citations for verification .(August 2021)
The "synoptic problem" is the question of the specific literary relationship among the three synoptic gospels—that is, the question as to the source or sources upon which each synoptic gospel depended when it was written.
The texts of the three synoptic gospels often agree very closely in wording and order, both in quotations and in narration. Most scholars ascribe this to documentary dependence, direct or indirect, meaning the close agreements among synoptic gospels are due to one gospel's drawing from the text of another, or from some written source that another gospel also drew from. 
The synoptic problem hinges on several interrelated points of controversy:
Some[ which? ] theories try to explain the relation of the synoptic gospels to John; to non-canonical gospels such as Thomas, Peter, and Egerton; to the Didache; and to lost documents such as the Hebrew logia mentioned by Papias, the Jewish–Christian gospels, and the Gospel of Marcion.
Ancient sources virtually unanimously ascribe the synoptic gospels to the apostle Matthew, to Peter's interpreter Mark, and to Paul's companion Luke—hence their respective canonical names.  The ancient authors, however, did not agree on which order the Gospels had been written. For example, Clement of Alexandria held that Matthew wrote first, Luke wrote second and Mark wrote third;  on the other hand, Origen argued that Matthew wrote first, Mark wrote second and Luke wrote third;  finally, Tertullian states that John and Matthew were published first and that Mark and Luke came later.  
A remark by Augustine of Hippo at the beginning of the fifth century presents the gospels as composed in their canonical order (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), with each evangelist thoughtfully building upon and supplementing the work of his predecessors—the Augustinian hypothesis (Matthew–Mark). 
This view (when any model of dependence was considered at all) seldom came into question until the late eighteenth century, when Johann Jakob Griesbach published in 1776 a synopsis of the synoptic gospels. Instead of harmonizing them, he displayed their texts side by side, making both similarities and divergences apparent. Griesbach, noticing the special place of Mark in the synopsis, hypothesized Marcan posteriority and advanced (as Henry Owen had a few years earlier  ) the two-gospel hypothesis (Matthew–Luke).
In the nineteenth century, researchers applied the tools of literary criticism to the synoptic problem in earnest, especially in German scholarship. Early work revolved around a hypothetical proto-gospel (Ur-Gospel), possibly in Aramaic, underlying the synoptics. From this line of inquiry, however, a consensus emerged that Mark itself served as the principal source for the other two gospels—Marcan priority.
In a theory first proposed by Christian Hermann Weisse in 1838, the double tradition was explained by Matthew and Luke independently using two sources—thus, the two-source (Mark–Q) theory—which supplemented Mark with another hypothetical source consisting mostly of sayings. This additional source was at first seen as the logia (sayings) spoken of by Papias and thus called "Λ", [n 2] but later it became more generally known as "Q", from the German Quelle, meaning source.  This two-source theory eventually won wide acceptance and was seldom questioned until the late twentieth century; most scholars simply took this new orthodoxy for granted and directed their efforts toward Q itself, and this is still [update] largely the case.[ citation needed ]
The theory is also well known in a more elaborate form set forth by Burnett Hillman Streeter in 1924, which additionally hypothesized written sources "M" and "L" (for "Special Matthew" and "Special Luke" respectively)—hence the influential four-document hypothesis. This exemplifies the prevailing scholarship of the time, which saw the canonical gospels as late products, dating from well into the second century, composed by unsophisticated cut-and-paste redactors out of a progression of written sources, and derived in turn from oral traditions and from folklore that had evolved in various communities.  More recently,[ when? ] however, as this view has gradually fallen into disfavor, so too has the centrality of documentary interdependence and hypothetical documentary sources as an explanation for all aspects of the synoptic problem.[ citation needed ]
In recent decades, weaknesses of the two-source theory have been more widely recognized,[ by whom? ] and debate has reignited. Many have independently argued that Luke did make some use of Matthew after all. British scholars went further and dispensed with Q entirely, ascribing the double tradition to Luke's direct use of Matthew—the Farrer hypothesis of 1955.  New attention is also being given[ by whom? ] to the Wilke hypothesis of 1838 which, like Farrer, dispenses with Q but ascribes the double tradition to Matthew's direct use of Luke. Meanwhile, the Augustinian hypothesis has also made a comeback, especially in American scholarship. The Jerusalem school hypothesis has also attracted fresh advocates, as has the Independence hypothesis, which denies documentary relationships altogether.[ citation needed ]
On this collapse of consensus, Wenham observed: "I found myself in the Synoptic Problem Seminar of the Society for New Testament Studies, whose members were in disagreement over every aspect of the subject. When this international group disbanded in 1982 they had sadly to confess that after twelve years' work they had not reached a common mind on a single issue." 
More recently, Andris Abakuks applied a statistical time series approach to the Greek texts to determine the relative likelihood of these proposals. Models without Q fit reasonably well. Matthew and Luke were statistically dependent on their borrowings from Mark. This suggests at least one of Matthew and Luke had access to the other's work. The most likely synoptic gospel to be the last was Luke. The least likely was Mark. While this weighs against the Griesbach proposal and favors the Farrer, he does not claim any proposals are ruled out. 
No definitive solution to the Synoptic Problem has been found yet. The Two-source hypothesis, which was dominant throughout the 20th century, still enjoys the support of most New Testament scholars; however, it has come under substantial attack in recent years by a number of biblical scholars, who have attempted to relaunch the Augustinian hypothesis,  the Griesbach hypothesis  and the Farrer hypothesis. 
In particular, the existence of the Q source has received harsh criticism in the first two decades of the 21st century: scholars such as Mark Goodacre and Brant Pitre have pointed out that no manuscript of Q has ever been found, nor is any reference to Q ever made in the writings of the Church Fathers (or any ancient writings, in fact).    This has prompted E. P. Sanders and Margaret Davies to write that the Two-sources hypothesis, while still dominant, "is least satisfactory"  and Joseph Fitzmyer to state that the Synoptic Problem is "practically insoluble". 
Nearly every conceivable theory has been advanced as a solution to the synoptic problem.  The most notable theories include:
| Marcan |
| Two‑source |
|Most widely accepted theory. Matthew and Luke independently used Q, taken to be a Greek document with sayings and narrative.|
| Farrer |
|Double tradition explained entirely by Luke's use of Matthew.|
| Three‑source |
|A hybrid of Two-source and Farrer. Q may be limited to sayings, may be in Aramaic, and may also be a source for Mark.|
| Wilke |
|Double tradition explained entirely by Matthew's use of Luke.|
| Four-source |
|Matthew and Luke used Q. Only Matthew used M and only Luke used L.|
| Matthaean |
| Two‑gospel |
|Mark primarily has collected what Matthew and Luke share in common (Marcan posteriority).|
| Augustinian |
|The oldest known view, still advocated by some. Mark's special place is neither priority nor posteriority, but as the intermediate between the other two synoptic gospels. Canonical order is based on this view having been assumed (at the time when New Testament Canon was finalized).|
| Lucan |
| Jerusalem school |
|A Greek anthology (A), translated literally from a Hebrew original, was used by each gospel. Luke also drew from an earlier lost gospel, a reconstruction (R) of the life of Jesus reconciling the anthology with yet another narrative work. Matthew has not used Luke directly.|
|Marcion priority||Priority of the Gospel of Marcion||All gospels directly used the gospel of Marcion as their source, and have been influenced heavily by it.|
|Others or none||Multi‑source||Each gospel drew from a different combination of hypothetical earlier documents.|
|Proto‑gospel||The gospels each independently derive from a common proto-gospel (Ur-Gospel), possibly in Hebrew or Aramaic.|
| Q+/Papias |
|Each document drew from each of its predecessors, including Logoi (Q+) and Papias' Exposition.|
|Independence||Each gospel is an independent and original composition based upon oral history.|
Gospel originally meant the Christian message, but in the 2nd century it came to be used also for the books in which the message was reported. In this sense a gospel can be defined as a loose-knit, episodic narrative of the words and deeds of Jesus, culminating in his trial and death and concluding with various reports of his post-resurrection appearances. Modern biblical scholars are cautious of relying on the gospels uncritically, but nevertheless, they provide a good idea of the public career of Jesus, and critical study can attempt to distinguish the original ideas of Jesus from those of the later Christian authors.
Marcan priority is the hypothesis that the Gospel of Mark was the first of the three synoptic gospels to be written, and was used as a source by the other two. It is a central element in discussion of the synoptic problem; the question of the documentary relationship among these three gospels.
The two-source hypothesis is an explanation for the synoptic problem, the pattern of similarities and differences between the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It posits that the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke were based on the Gospel of Mark and a hypothetical sayings collection from the Christian oral tradition called Q.
The Farrer hypothesis is a possible solution to the synoptic problem. The theory is that the Gospel of Mark was written first, followed by the Gospel of Matthew and then by the Gospel of Luke.
M source, which is sometimes referred to as M document, or simply M, comes from the M in "Matthean material". It is a hypothetical textual source for the Gospel of Matthew. M Source is defined as that 'special material' of the Gospel of Matthew that is neither Q source nor Mark.
The Gospel of Marcion, called by its adherents the Gospel of the Lord, or more commonly the Gospel, was a text used by the mid-2nd-century Christian teacher Marcion of Sinope to the exclusion of the other gospels. The majority of scholars agree that this gospel was a later revised version of the Gospel of Luke, though several involved arguments for Marcion priority have been put forward in recent years.
The Augustinian hypothesis is a solution to the synoptic problem, which concerns the origin of the Gospels of the New Testament. The hypothesis holds that Matthew was written first, by Matthew the Evangelist. Mark the Evangelist wrote the Gospel of Mark second and used Matthew and the preaching of Peter as sources. Luke the Evangelist wrote the Gospel of Luke and was aware of the two Gospels that preceded him. Unlike some competing hypotheses, this hypothesis does not rely on, nor does it argue for, the existence of any document that is not explicitly mentioned in historical testimony. Instead, the hypothesis draws primarily upon historical testimony, rather than textual criticism, as the central line of evidence. The foundation of evidence for the hypothesis is the writings of the Church Fathers: historical sources dating back to as early as the first half of the 2nd century, which have been held as authoritative by most Christians for nearly two millennia. Adherents to the Augustinian hypothesis view it as a simple, coherent solution to the synoptic problem.
The criterion of multiple attestation, also called the criterion of independent attestation or the cross-section method, is a tool used by Biblical scholars to help determine whether certain actions or sayings by Jesus in the New Testament are from the Historical Jesus. Simply put, the more independent witnesses that report an event or saying, the better. This criterion was first developed by F. C. Burkitt in 1906, at the end of the first quest for the historical Jesus.
John S. (Seargeant) Kloppenborg is a Canadian professor of Religious Studies with expertise in Greco-Roman culture, Judean culture and Christian Origins, particularly the synoptic gospels and Q-source. He is presently at the University of Toronto, where he holds the distinguished title of "University Professor." He was elected a member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas in 1990, and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014. In 2019-2020 he served as the president of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas. He is also a member of The Context Group, the Society of Biblical Literature, and the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. He was awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Lethbridge (2011) and the University of Pretoria (2018)
Robert Lisle Lindsey (1917–1995), founded together with David Flusser the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research.
A four-document hypothesis or four-source hypothesis is an explanation for the relationship between the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It posits that there were at least four sources to the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke: the Gospel of Mark and three lost sources. It was proposed by B. H. Streeter in 1925, who refined the two-source hypothesis into a four-source hypothesis.
The historical reliability of the Gospels is evaluated by experts who have not found a complete consensus. While all four canonical gospels contain some sayings and events which may meet one or more of the five criteria for historical reliability used in biblical studies, the assessment and evaluation of these elements is a matter of ongoing debate. Virtually all scholars of antiquity agree that a human Jesus existed, but scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the biblical accounts of Jesus, and the only two events subject to "almost universal assent" are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate. Elements whose historical authenticity is disputed include the two accounts of the Nativity of Jesus, the miraculous events including the resurrection, and certain details about the crucifixion.
The Jerusalem School Hypothesis is one of many possible solutions to the synoptic problem, that the Gospel of Luke and the Gospel of Matthew both relied on older texts which are now lost. It was developed by Robert Lindsey, from the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research.
The two-gospel hypothesis or Griesbach hypothesis is that the Gospel of Matthew was written before the Gospel of Luke, and that both were written earlier than the Gospel of Mark. It is a proposed solution to the synoptic problem, which concerns the pattern of similarities and differences between the three Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The hypothesis is generally first credited to Johann Jakob Griesbach writing in the 1780s; it was introduced in its current form by William R. Farmer in 1964 and given its current designation of two-gospel hypothesis in 1979.
The Q source (also called The Sayings Gospel, Q Gospel, Q document(s), or Q; from German: Quelle, meaning "source") is a hypothetical written collection of primarily Jesus' sayings (λόγια : logia). Q is part of the common material found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke but not in the Gospel of Mark. According to this hypothesis, this material was drawn from the early Church's oral gospel traditions.
Oral gospel traditions is the hypothetical first stage in the formation of the written gospels as information was passed by word of mouth. These oral traditions included different types of stories about Jesus. For example, people told anecdotes about Jesus healing the sick and debating with his opponents. The traditions also included sayings attributed to Jesus, such as parables and teachings on various subjects which, along with other sayings, formed the oral gospel tradition. The supposition of such traditions have been the focus of scholars such as Bart Ehrman, James Dunn, and Richard Bauckham, although each scholar varies widely in his conclusions, with Ehrman and Bauckham publicly debating on the subject.
In textual criticism of the New Testament, the L source is a hypothetical oral or textual tradition which the author of Luke–Acts may have used when composing the Gospel of Luke.
The Hebrew Gospel hypothesis is that a lost gospel, written in Hebrew or Aramaic, predated the four canonical gospels. Some have suggested a complete unknown proto-gospel as the source of the canonical gospels. This hypothesis is usually based upon an early Christian tradition from the 2nd-century bishop Papias of Hierapolis. According to Papias, Matthew the Apostle was the first to compose a gospel, and he did so in Hebrew. Papias appeared to imply that this Hebrew or Aramaic gospel was subsequently translated into the canonical Gospel of Matthew. Jerome took this information one step further and claimed that all known Jewish-Christian gospels really were one and the same, and that this gospel was the authentic Matthew. As a consequence he assigned all known quotations from Jewish-Christian gospels to the "gospels of the Hebrews", but modern studies have shown this to be untenable. Modern variants of the hypothesis survive, but have not found favor with scholars as a whole.
Advanced by Dennis R. MacDonald, the Q+/Papias hypothesis (Q+/PapH) offers an alternative solution to the synoptic problem. MacDonald prefers to call this expanded version of Q Logoi of Jesus, which is supposed to have been its original title.
The Matthean Posteriority hypothesis, also known as the Wilke hypothesis after Christian Gottlob Wilke, is a proposed solution to the synoptic problem, holding that the Gospel of Mark was used as a source by the Gospel of Luke, then both of these were used as sources by the Gospel of Matthew. Thus, it posits Marcan priority and Matthaean posteriority.
Hennell, in his 'Origin of Christianity,' says that:- 'Some one after Matthew wrote the Greek Gospel which has come down to us, incorporating part of the Hebrew one, whence it was called the Gospel according to Matthew, and, in the second century, came to be considered as the work of the Apostle.'
The literary history of the Gospels will turn out to be a simpler matter than we had supposed. St. Matthew will be seen to be an amplified version of St. Mark, based on a decade of habitual preaching, and incorporating oral material, but presupposing no other literary source beside St. Mark himself. St. Luke, in turn, will be found to presuppose St. Matthew and St. Mark, and St. John to presuppose the three others. The whole literary history of the canonical Gospel tradition will be found to be contained in the fourfold canon itself, except in so far as it lies in the Old Testament, the Pseudepigrapha, and the other New Testament writings. [...] Once rid of Q, we are rid of a progeny of nameless chimaeras, and free to let St. Matthew write as he is moved.