Simply defined, the Synoptic Gospels are the first three books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The "Gospels" are an accumulation of the Synoptic Gospels plus the book of John. They describe the good news of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, which are the foundation of Christ's message of salvation.
The apostle Matthew, who was one of the twelve disciples appointed by Jesus, wrote the Gospel of Matthew. John Mark wrote the Gospel of Mark, and he was a close associate of the apostle Peter. Luke, the physician, a friend of the apostle Paul, wrote the Gospel of Luke.
The word "synoptic" means "together sight." The Synoptic Gospels are called such because the authors "saw together with a common view." These books cover many of the same events in Jesus' life in almost the same exact order. Just about ninety percent of the content in Mark is also found in Matthew, and about half of Mark also appears in Luke. The Synoptic Gospels are encompassing of all of Jesus' parables, and the book of John (a Gospel, but not synoptic) does not contain any of Jesus' parables.
Although there are abundant similarities in these books, there are also quite a few differences. Mark is the shortest book of the three by a considerable amount. Further, all three books were written for different audiences. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience, Mark wrote to a Roman audience, and Luke wrote to a Gentile audience. Matthew took a unique approach to his writing by frequently quoting the Old Testament. He is also the only author to extensively use the phrase "the kingdom of heaven," which is not found anywhere else in Scripture. Luke was drawn to Jesus' compassion, and was faithful to record Jesus' acts of kindness toward Samaritans and Gentiles.
Biblical scholarship often has a difficulty defining the similarities and differences within the Synoptic Gospels, and dubbed this difficulty the "Synoptic Problem." Overall, scholars can agree that God inspired all three authors to detail the life of Jesus Christ and relay the meaning of His life to three different audiences.
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