Q: #254. What are the "synoptic Gospels?
A: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic Gospels. The word “synoptic” comes from the Greek word “sunopsis” sun = “together” “opsis” = “vision.” The definition in Webster’s Dictionary is: “affording a general view of a whole / presenting or taking the same or common view.” In other words, these Gospels are called the synoptic Gospels because they are alike in many ways. They have a similar point of view, similar style, wording, and structure, and many common stories and parables.
This is in contrast with the other Gospel, the book of John. About 90% of what is contained in the book of John is unique to John and not found in the other 3 Gospels. It also has a much different style, arrangement, and focus (i.e much more focus on the deity of Jesus). In addition, it focuses almost entirely on Jesus’ ministry in Judea, while the other 3 Gospels focus almost entirely on Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. John also contains no parables.
Scholars differ as to which synoptic Gospel was written first. Most believe it was either Matthew or Mark (John was written about 20 to 30 years later than the synoptics). The church fathers were fairly united in the fact that Matthew was written first, hence its placement as the first Gospel. However, many scholars believe Mark was first. Regardless, it is believed that part of the reason for the similarity of the Gospels is that the other two synoptic Gospels used the first as template for writing their Gospels. This would account for the similarities, but also the different points of view. Ultimately though, what these writers wrote was inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16)(2 Pet 1:20-21). (See: Q: #175 – Who Wrote The Bible)
I should quickly add here that some liberal scholars (mainly those who deny that the Bible is divinely inspired) believe there is a missing document that they call “Q” from which they believe that all of the synoptic Gospel writers got their information. This is sheer nonsense, and there is NO evidence or proof this document ever existed.