The Q Document/The Synoptic Gospels

The Synoptic GospelsEdit

Of the four canonical gospels included in the New Testament, three are very similar: Mark, Matthew, and Luke. These gospels often recount the same stories about Jesus, generally follow the same sequence and, often use the same or similar wording. Because they share the same view, these three gospels are known as the Synoptic Gospels (from Greek synoptic, meaning "seeing with the same eyes").

A substantial amount of material is repeated in all three synoptic gospels. This material is known as the triple tradition. About half of the material in the synoptic gospels (taken together) would be considered "triple tradition" material.

Another substantial block of material is repeated in both Matthew and Luke, but is absent from Mark. This material is known as the double tradition. About one-fifth of the material in the synoptic gospels (taken together) would be considered "double tradition" material.

A small amount material (about 9%) is found in both Mark and Matthew, but not in Luke. A very small amount of material (about 2%) is found in Mark and Luke, but not in Matthew.

Additionally, each gospel has some material that is unique to it alone. Luke has a relatively large amount of such material-- Luke-only material makes up about 15% of the synoptics. Matthew-only material, meanwhile, makes up about 9% of the synoptics. Mark has the least amount of unique material-- Mark-only material makes up less than 1% of the synoptics.

The Synoptic ProblemEdit

Two parallel passages from Matthew and Luke. Identical wording is rendered in red.[1]

The relationships between the three synoptic gospels goes beyond mere similarity in viewpoint. The gospels often recount the stories, usually in the same exact order, sometimes even using the exact same words. Some sections are repeated nearly verbatim.

Scholars note that the similarities between the Mark, Matthew, and Luke are too great to be accounted for by mere coincidences. Since multiple eyewitnesses reporting the exact same events will basically never relate a story using exactly the same word-for-word telling, Scholars and theologians have long assumed there was some literary relationship between the three synoptic gospels.

The precise nature of the relationships between the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke is know as the Synoptic Problem. The recognition of the question, and attempts to resolve it, date to antiquity. For example, Augustine of Hippo, a 5th century bishop, tried to explain the relationships between the synoptic gospels by proposing that perhaps Matthew was written first, then Mark was written using Matthew as a source, and finally Luke was written using Matthew and Mark as sources. Although this specific solution has fallen out favor with modern scholars, it represents one of the earliest and most influential proposed solutions to the synoptic problem.


  1. Matt 3:7-10 & Luke 3:7-9. Text from 1894 Scrivener New Testament