The Synoptic Gospels are the first three books of the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. These three books plus John are called the “Gospels” because they chronicle Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—the basis of our salvation.
The Gospel of Matthew was written by Matthew the apostle, one of the twelve commissioned by Jesus. The Gospel of Mark was written by John Mark, a close associate of the apostle Peter. The Gospel of Luke was written by Luke the physician, a friend and traveling companion of the apostle Paul.
The first three Gospels are called “synoptic” because they “see together with a common view” (the word synoptic literally means “together sight”). Matthew, Mark, and Luke cover many of the same events in Jesus’ life—most of them from Jesus’ ministry in Galilee—in much the same order. Nearly 90 percent of Mark’s content is found in Matthew, and about 50 percent of Mark appears in Luke. All of the parables of Christ are found in the Synoptics (the Gospel of John contains no parables).
There are differences, too. Matthew and Luke are both considerably longer than Mark. Matthew was written for a Jewish audience, Mark for a Roman audience, and Luke for a broader Gentile audience. Matthew quotes extensively from the Old Testament, and his oft use (32 times) of the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” is unique—it’s not found anywhere else in the Bible. Luke places a definite emphasis on Jesus’ acts of compassion toward Gentiles and Samaritans. Much of Luke 10—20 is unique to that Gospel.
The difficulty in explaining the similarities and differences among the Synoptic Gospels is referred to as the Synoptic Problem in the world of biblical scholarship. In the final analysis, the Synoptic “Problem” is not much of a problem at all—God inspired three Gospel writers to record the events surrounding the same Person during the same part of His life in the same locations, yet with slightly different emphases aimed at different readers.
Some argue that Matthew, Mark, and Luke are so similar that they must have used each other’s Gospels or another common source. This supposed “source” has been given the title “Q” from the German word quelle, which means “source.” Is there any evidence for a “Q” document? No, there is not. No portion or fragment of a “Q” document has ever been discovered.
None of the early church fathers ever mentioned a Gospel “source” in their writings. “Q” is the invention of liberal “scholars” who deny the inspiration of the Bible.
They believe the Bible to be nothing more than a work of literature, subject to the same criticism given to other works of literature. Again, there is no evidence whatsoever for a “Q” document—biblically, theologically, or historically.
If Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not use a “Q” document, why are their Gospels so similar? There are several possible explanations. It is possible that, whichever Gospel was written first (possibly Mark, although the church fathers reported that Matthew was written first), the other Gospel writers had access to it. There is absolutely no problem with the idea that Matthew and/or Luke copied some text from Mark’s Gospel and used it in their Gospels.
Perhaps Luke had access to Mark and Matthew and used texts from both of them in his own Gospel.
“Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed..” Luke 1:1–4