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The Jesus we know from the Gospels and other New Testament books--almost our only source for his biography--is a Jesus described and interpreted by the early church, a community of believers who looked backward in time to clothe the historical personage in post-resurrection glory. What Jesus actually said as opposed to what the church thought or assumed he said is to the Biblical scholar a matter of conjecture. - Harris, Stephen L, Understanding the Bible, Mayfield Publishing Company, Palo Alto, CA, 1987, p.255.

Introduction to the Synoptic Gospels
07/06/2019

In the light of the quote above being especially applicable to the Synoptic Gospels, the premise and claim is that by judiciously combining the duplicated accounts of the Synoptic Gospels, little if anything significant is lost and something more or greater is gained.

It is intellectually irresponsible to consider these gospels as reliable or eyewitness accounts. They are collections and compilations of stories that came down through a chain of unreliable storytellers and previous scraps of writings gathered over the course of 20 to 30+ years. Almost none of the material included in the compilations even came from a secondhand account much less an eyewitness. No material in a Synoptic Gospel would even be allowed in a USA court of law, but would be excluded on the basis of its being hearsay!

Normally, over the course of a couple of dozen years retellings of anecdotes, conversations, and stories would significantly drift away from the original, but in this case we are talking about crucial religious material where there was an inherent motivation to cherish the material and remember it. On the other hand in the retelling, there was also a strong tendency to inject personal thinking and belief, and to embellish and or exaggerate to make the stories and anecdotes more impactful. Also, there is the normal erosion of accuracy and clarity through loss of memory, summarizing, and interpreting the meaning in the personal words of the source through each step.

All of this is on display in the actual text as it has come down to us, and is indicated by the many hundreds of relevant differences, discrepancies and contradictions. Where these variations occur, one can often select the one that seems to make the most sense and or is the most reliable. Thus, at least theoretically, more can be gained than lost by a careful attempt to combine these accounts without losing anything. It certainly cuts down on irrelevant duplication and volume of content.

Before we go any further, let's ask some-important question to keep in mind:

  • WHY did compiler compose his Gospel?
  • Why did he wait so long?
  • For whom did he produce it?

Initially in the developing Christian community there was thought to be no reason to write anything down Why would you do that? There was celebration and rejoicing that Jesus was coming back tomorrow or too soon to consider chronicling what was said and done to just preserve it, and there was no thought of doing it for dissemination to distant cities or lands. The very eyewitnesses were alive and constantly reiterating the words and deeds.

At some point there was a dawning realization that something was wrong with their expectation, and they had to quit celebrating and return to the business of life. Some of the disciples began to go their separate ways, and some began to die or be killed. The history of Jesus activity and communication was being lost.

Many have noted that the three Gospel compilers seem to have a different agenda and a different emphasis shown partially by their introductory passages and different material that was included.  Some scholars have seen the Matthew is portraying Jesus as the Messianic king, Mark as the servant, and Luke as the man.

It is well established that the first Synoptic compilation that we have in the New Testament resulted in the Gospel of Mark, which was evidently copied and circulated within the wider Christian community. Having read that or heard it read, many noted that important or cherished material was left out, and thus the Christian community commissioned the more extensive compilation--probably in Antioch--that was named after the disciple Matthew, and a learned physician in Rome set about to do the same thing, which resulted in the Gospel called by his own name, Luke. It is noteworthy that both Matthew and Luke incorporate material form a hypothetical earlier collection called the "Q" document, and  include 90% of the Gospel of Mark, but not the exact same 90%. However, between them there is only one verse in Mark that is not included.

As to the actual sequence or chronology of the various events and sayings, we can have no confidence in the various Gospel compilers always being correct. Although many scholars have tried diligently to reconstruct a chronological sequence, there is probably no adequate way to provide an absolutely accurate chronology without divine intervention nor without violating some of the incidental connecting phrases such as "After this, Jesus went...".

And there should be no question that long passages of sayings have been strung together without regard for either context or sequence. The site author finds this to be much more troubling than the lack of a correct chronology of events, and thus finds the inability to capture the precise sequence to be inconsequential. Double entendre intended!

The Synoptic Gospel compilers were no doubt "Christians" who did NOT understand their subject, his character, and his message, and they often mischaracterize Jesus and his words and actions in a tiresome way.

It should be noted that the first dozen passages in the combined Synoptic Gospels are all Luke's creation, with no supporting material from the other Gospels, and it would be very hard to think that Luke didn't take a lot of poetic license in composing them. The spiritually mature believer is free to critically challenge any material to see if it is credible, and to ascertain its relevance or importance.

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