Exploring the Significance of Synoptic Gospels in Biblical Studies


The reading of synoptic gospel is the genesis of understanding the happenings in the Biblical studies. Furthermore, the scholar observes the emergence of doctrinal positions during the pre-critical days when the Bible was heavily asserted or criticized, and how the Synoptic Gospel became the centre of literary and historical criticism, a trend which has stood the test of time. During the times of Biblical source criticisms, there was an immense scope for resolving the relationship between the Gospel of Luke, Mark and Mathew, and the purpose why they differed from one another. Bauckham, (2010) study noted the scholars have lost the capacity to discuss that which is new concerning the relationship of the Synoptic Gospel. Bosch, (2011) believed that Streeter’s research The Four Gospel promoted two views; that it was not seriously considered that the priority of Mark pioneered the Gospel criticism and that the “ existence of a document or documents called Q afforded the best explanations of the similarities between Mathew and Luke ”. The main focus of this study is to establish what can be learnt from studying the synoptic gospels together, and how the synoptic study of Matthew, Mark might and Luke feed Christian ministry today.


Synoptic Gospels Teachings

The Synoptic Gospel mainly focuses on two major areas namely eschatology and Christology. The Gospel articulates Jesus’s comprehension of his entire mission and person, and how and when he conceived the judgment day; the coming of God’s kingdom. Critical examination of Synoptic Gospel has aroused concerns with the use of the term “Son of Man”. Whereas there is a school of thought disregarding Jesus’ application of this phrase, the other believes the term

signifies authority, confidence in final redemption, and necessity of suffering which are arguably relevant contexts to where the term is located in Mark.

Murphy (2013) observed that there are two key approaches which require cognition while studying theological emphases and themes in the Synoptic Gospels of Mathew, John and Luke. In addition, the scholar maintained that the Synoptic Gospel are the only Books in the entire Bible where four accounts of many events overlap, and because of the overlapping advocated for studying the Books together for better understanding.

Lessons Learnt from Studying the Three Synoptic Gospels Together

Mathew, Mark and Luke are termed as the “Synoptic Gospels” based on the conception their similarities excites a need to be read together. The stories as presented in the Synoptic Gospel are not simply similar, but in many instance share common word per word narrations. The gospel however disagrees, and the challenge of how to explain the differences and similarities is what Murphy (2013) termed as synoptic problem.

The Synoptic Problem can be resolved thorough the Four Source Hypothesis. Under this framework, four sources are harnessed in accounting for the similarities and differences therein in the three books. The book of Mark was the first one to be written and was utilized by Mathew and Luke (Markan Priority). In addition, Mark and Luke shared common a common source which was not extant (scholars term this source as Q for Quelle which means source). These two sources are fundamental in accounting for the similarities and discrepancies within the three

Synoptic Gospels. Moreover, Mathew possessed his written or oral materials marked as “M”, and Luke branded as ‘L”. The two materials are conceived as the bases for the discrepancies among the Gospels. The four sources of the Synoptic Gospel therefore are Mark, Q, M and L.

The study of gospel intends to bring to the intended audience to hope and faith in Jesus Christ as step towards securing the Kingdom of Heaven. This reason inspired evangelism, and the spread of the Gospel to reach many people affiliated to God. According to Kirk (2016), the adaptations and contextual adjustments done on the Gospel material by evangelists was tailored to inducing faith to the believers and approves the gospel as a solid truth. By so doing, the evangelists also were conditioned by other sub-goals which mainly sought to meet the needs of the audience. Such needs included internal differences within the Christians or external feuds between the Christian believers and the civil authorities.

The conception of Gospel writings was propelled by three main reasons namely; instruction, defence and evangelization. Concerning instruction, the Gospels intended to instruct early believers how to live and operate within the standards of Christianity. The Gospel was geared to assist believers become better Christians and citizens and maintain their faith amidst harsh conditions. The Gospel came as a reminder to stay humble just as Jesus had reminded the disciples in Mathew 18: 15 to 22; and above all practice forgiving. Additionally, the Gospel came as a reminder to the early Christians to absorb persecutions for Jesus also encountered the same with the authorities of his time, and indeed went through the ordeal of persecution to death. The experiences of Jesus were therefore presented to Christians to console them that amidst tribulations they should not fumble but remain focused in faith (Sanders, & Davies, 1989).

Alongside the role of instructing, Synoptic Gospel served the purpose of evangelization. The Gospel was deemed to offers a basis for persuading others appreciate the new faith, and accept that Jesus was the son of God and therefore embraced and believed. The gospel also intended to converse the religion of Jesus as the saviour of mankind and this conception shaped the aim of the gospel writers. In the end of Mark’s, the author observes how the centurion witnessing the crucifixion of Christ exclaim saying; “truly this man was the son of God” Mark 15: 39). This observation intended to be perceived by every reader of the gospel.

Moreover, the synoptic Gospel was used to defend the stand of early Christians concerning particular observances in their ensuing conflicts with the Roman and Jewish authorities. The gospel played the role of defending early Christians from the wants of persecutions. Some texts were tailored to present a case against various political and religious structures crucial in the early Christian movement (Wenham, & Walton, 2001).

How the Synoptic Gospel Study Feed Christian Ministry Today

In-depth mastery of the contexts and relationship amongst the three synoptic gospels form a basis of ministering in the contemporary age. A fresh examination of correct theological foundation of Christian mission since the advent of the 19th century has not rested. Wenham, & Walton, (2001) noted that the clarification of this mission role is crucial in the church’s service and existence; and it cannot be effectively articulated without critically judging and examining the Biblical report of the Synoptic Gospel. A mission ought to be built on the living word, and referenced scriptures, and therefore evangelists ought to seek understanding the Biblical precepts on mission clearly.

Synoptic Gospels have played a critical role in Christian ministry today. The mission of the church in modern days has become essential as ever before, with the context for administering changing substantially. A number of new insights and publications on the missionary paradigm of the Synoptic Gospel authors have been introduced. These newly introduced insights and paradigms have further strengthened the aspects of glorification of God, which has been deemed as the deepest missionary goal.

Christian engagement in God’s mission is a manifestation of the love of God. The involvement of Christians in the mission is motivated by Synoptic Gospel advocating for the Great Commission which is mentioned in Mathew 28:16-20. Adhering to this call is a manifestation of great obedience, but also provided a basis of professing gratitude and wonder in God’s love.

Donahue (1988) cognized the role of Synoptic Gospel in influencing and persuading people accept Jesus Christ as the saviour. Many early Christian missions were conceived on this quest. The gospels consist of strong salvation message to the lost souls amidst the chaos and spiritual deficiencies of the time. Synoptic Gospels laid a firm foundation non than evangelization of human race in the immediate generation. Observantly, the urge for salvation which inspired early missionaries from America and Europe to go to Africa, Asia and Latin America and establish churches and spread the gospel of salvation as articulated in the synoptic gospels. The planting of churches with all its hierarchical and monarchical structures in different societies and cultures is a fundamental guidance provided by the gospel to serve as the tool of good and salvation. The establishment of the church has always been a fundamental role.

Synoptic Gospels have provided a meticulous response to social evils such as disease, poverty, oppression and ignorance. Social evangelists believed that every Christian missionary ought to strive and fight down the social ills of the time, and inject hope, and contribute positively in making the world a habitable place, in line with the ideals of God’s kingdom. Christianizing social evils provided slid solutions to some of the social challenges in the world which Gardner-Smith, (2011) terms as evolutionary, transforming, active and dynamic and these elements needed integration with the precepts of the Gospel.

Discovering the understanding of mission is one of the divine initiatives, which Gardner-Smith, (2011) suggests began in 1930s. The understanding of mission prospects led to the new meaning of mission as the activity of God but not men. The mission begins with the divine sending of God’s self in the trinity, and this conception was important especially in the enlightenment approach of Christian missions. Mission was no longer considered as the church’s activity in many cultures.

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The Gospel of Mathew

The Gospel according to Mathew focuses a clear and crucial sub-paradigm of the ancient church interpretation and experience of mission. Mathew’s conceptualization of mission has been characterized as “mission of disciple – making”. Any definition to mission according to Mathew ought to commence with the Great Commission as professed in Mathew 28: 16- 20. It is equally acknowledged that this text has provided the most elemental motivation for Christian ministry.

The manner in which the “the Great Commission” has structurally been harnessed in setting a biblical foundation of mission has been modified through rigorous challenging. This is due to the

premise that the text has been taken out of context and translated as an autonomous precept which converses directly to our conditions. When this happen, this text is easily degradable to a common slogan or tapped as a pretext for what missionaries have unconsciously decided. Bosch (2011) suggested that ; “One thing contemporary scholars agreed upon, is that Matthew 28:18-26 has to be interpreted against the background of Matthew's gospel as a whole and unless we keep this in mind, we shall fail to understand it".

The Gospel of Mark

Every synoptic gospel submits new interpretation challenge especially in respect to the exploration of their diverging theologies. In many cases, interpreters have passed over the theme of mission in the Book of Mark. Nickle (2002) proposed that "In contemporary Synoptic studies the role of mission is more neglected in the case of Mark than it is in Matthew, Luke or Acts”.

The New Testament scholars contend that the Gospel of Mark was written about forty years after the death and resurrection of Christ. The ancient church tradition continually dedicates the authorship of John Mark. Without doubts, Mark wrote this gospel under the influence of various reasons. The major reason was to motivate and advise other fallible followers of Christ testable in controversial and challenging times. Since persecution and suffering are major themes resonating in Mark’s gospel. These themes fit so well in the structures of Christian mission, despite lacking a vivid mission mandate.

McIver (2012) noted the beginning of Mark’s gospel presents Jesus calling the disciples to make them the fishers of men. While appointing the twelve, his intention is to commission them and

send them out to preach and have authority over demonic powers (Mark 3:13-15), and indeed it is true as Jesus sets them out to commence their mission (Mark 6:7-13).

Mark presents a story about the continuing mission of Christ on the face of the earth. It is a message encompassing invitation and response. In chapter 16:8, the text appear intentional, in that it is Mark’s approach to get readers engage with the progressing story of Christ, It is welcoming gesture to discipleship and to mission.

Mark 16:15 says; “Go into the entire world and preach the good news to all creation”. This verse has rekindled strong inspiration for mission whose order appears to comprise of vital elements for contemporary Christians mission. The verse addresses the whole nation and it reflects on preaching as the primary tool for mission. In view of Mark, the framework of the Great Commission is as follows;

In summary, the Great Commission according to Mark exemplifies key factors concerning the nature of the commission. The disciples are not ordered to “go” but assumed to have “gone” into the world. The disciples are equally to pronounce the message to all places, and indeed the message of good news of the relationship with God. Lastly, the Gospel is to be preached to all people until the end of time.

The Gospel of Luke

The Book of Luke was written with an idea of mission in mind. According to Gardner-Smith (2011), Luke’s salvation story history constitutes three epochs namely; the epoch of Israel and John the Baptist, the epoch of Jesus’s ministry and thirdly the epoch of the church which was promulgated during Pentecost. These representations present Luke more than an evangelist well informed about the church of his time and the discrepancy with the church during the times of Christ. In the gospel of Luke, the Holy Spirit is fundamental; therefore it is true that Luke unites Jesus’s time and the church of his time in spirit. The two epochs are not identical but neither can they be isolated from one another (Nickle, 2002).

Concerning the mission of Luke, two texts constitutes particular importance namely Jesus’s sermon on the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30), and the great commission (Luke 24:44-49). The sermon in the synagogue integrates references to God’s provision Gentiles and is basic in mastering Luke’s perspective of Jesus’s mission. At the sermon in Nazareth, Jesus presents a segment of Prophet Isaiah: The Spirit if the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor (Luke 4:18). This text share similar perspectives with the Great Commission which provides the Biblical foundation of the Christian mission.


In conclusion, the studying of synoptic gospel together fosters the provision of evidence that the gospels were not conceived on eye-witness experience of the authors. Understanding this perspective helps evangelists to grasp the genesis of gospels and how they associate with the mission of Jesus Christ. The synoptic gospels have provided the basis of understanding the structures of Christianity, and have formed the basis of missionary practice. Serving the role of

evangelization, instruction and defence, as discussed above, synoptic gospels have in turn fed the Christian ministries today. The influences of synoptic gospels have survived the test of time, and have continually been harnessed to fill readers with hope and faith in Christ the saviour of the world.


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Bosch, D. J. (2011). Transforming mission: Paradigm shifts in theology of mission (No. 16). Orbis books.

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Murphy, J., (2013). Kids and kingdom: The precarious presence of children in the Synoptic Gospels. Wipf and Stock Publishers.

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Porter, S.E. and Dyer, B.R. eds., 2016. The Synoptic Problem: Four Views. Baker Academic.

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