Analysis & Research

A Synopsis Survey: Which Gospel Is Given Precedence?

Am starting to frame-up some ideas for another paper. The tentative question:

If Matthew’s Gospel was indeed the first Gospel to be published, while the sequence of events was relatively fresh in the minds of many of its readers, then would Matthew not have been particularly concerned with presenting the life of Jesus in an accurate chronological order?

Based on my understanding of the church fathers: (1) Matthew wrote within five to ten years of the resurrection and coincident with the events of Acts 10–11. (2) Mark then wrote for the benefit of Cornelius and friends, but he wrote based on Peter’s sermons; therefore, Mark can be expected to be more thematically organized.1 (3) Luke then wrote perhaps a decade later.2

So how would one investigate or attempt to demonstrate that Matthew offers the most accurate chronology? At this point, I don’t know whether this working theory is valid (or provable) or not, but I’d like to poke at it.

Let’s start by gathering some resources. What synopses are available and to which Gospel do they give sequential or chronological precedence? A limited survey is provided below.3 What are the key passages which distinguish the different synopses (other than the speeches, which may well be repeated)?

  • Benjamin Davies (1890) arranges the parallel Gospels by giving priority to Mark and Luke’s sequence, and shifting Matthew’s pericopes accordingly.4 Significantly, from Matthew’s perspective:5
    1. the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law (Mt 8:14) is pulled ahead of the cleansing of the leper (Mt 8:2) to align with Mk and Lk;
    2. the sabbath violations (plucking grain and healing of the withered hand; Mt 12) are pulled well ahead of the visit of John’s disciples (Mt 11) to align with Mk and Lk;
    3. the healing of the centurion’s servant (Mt 8:5) is placed well after the call of Matthew (Mt 9:9) to align with Lk;
    4. the calming of the sea, Gadarene demon Legion to swine, Levi’s feast, Jarius’s daughter, and hemorrhaging woman (Mt 8:18–9:34, less 9:2–9) are all pushed well after the visit of John’s disciples (Mt 11; and well after Matthew’s recruitment) to align with Mk and Lk.
  • Ross Finney (1907), based on Huck, arranges parallel columns in Mark, Matthew, Luke order, and shifts Matthew’s account similar to Davies, at least for the four periscopes noted above.
  • Stevens and Burton (1911), in their harmony of the four Gospels, integrate Matthew per the order above.6
  • A. T. Robertson (1922), in his harmony of the four Gospels, integrates Matthew per the order above.7
  • Bernard Orchard (1976) presents each of the Synoptic Gospels in its own sequential order, while identifying parallels and such with various connecting lines (solid, dash, etc.). When there are sequential differences a pericope is listed in each context; for example, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is listed twice, per both the Matthean order and Markan/Lukan order. This is the most visual format for assessing the differences in sequences, relative to the Matthean sequence (or chronology).8 In his subsequent work (1982), he identifies parallels in italics, rather than with lines.9
  • Dwight Pentecost (1981), for compiling his harmony, prioritizes the Markan and Lukan order, over Matthew’s order.10
  • Kurt Aland (1985), similar to Orchard, presents the Gospels in their own sequential order, while listing similar pericopes alongside the other, in varying font styles (small, bold, etc.). 11
  • Burton Throckmorton (1992) likewise presents the Gospels in their own sequential order, while listing similar pericopes alongside each other, in varying font styles (bold, regular, italic).12
  • Cox and Easley (2007), for compiling their harmony, prioritize the Markan and Lukan order, over Matthew’s order.13
  • Yueh Goffin (2011) organizes the parallel periscopes according to Matthean order.14 Of note, from Mark and Luke’s perspective:
    1. the cleansing of the leper (Mk 1:40; Lk 5:12) is pulled ahead of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.
    2. the sabbath violations (Mk 2:23; Lk 6:1) are pushed much later.
    3. the healing of the centurion’s servant (Lk 7:1) is pulled forward.
    4. the calming of the sea, Gadarene demon Legion, etc. (Mk 4:35; Lk 8:22) are pulled forward.

Tentatively, the next step will be to consider whether these four (and other) disconnects can be adequately explained by the understanding that Mark composed his Gospel based on Peter’s sermons.

  1. For example, Wessel contends that Mark has gathered together a number of confrontational events in Mark 2:1–3:6 with the Jewish religious leadership, which are not presented in chronological order. Walter W. Wessel, “Mark,” in Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 631. ↩︎
  2. Marshall argues that Luke 1:1–4 is not claiming “chronological exactitude,” but rather completeness, to show that “the story of Jesus, taken as a whole, makes sense and is therefore worthy of belief.” I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Exeter, UK: Paternoster, 1978), 43. ↩︎
  3. Additional synopses are identified in Heinrich Greeven and Robert Althann, “The Gospel Synopsis from 1776 to the Present Day,” in J. J. Griesbach: Synoptic and Text – Critical Studies 1776–1976 (Cambridge University Press, 1979), 22–79. ↩︎
  4. Benjamin Davies, Harmony of the Four Gospels: In the Words of the Authorized Version, Following the Harmony of the Gospels in Greek (London: Religious Tract Society, 1890), iii–viii. ↩︎
  5. There are no doubt more discrepancies of interest, but this is enough to track for now. ↩︎
  6. William Arnold Stevens and Ernest DeWitt Burton, A Harmony of the Gospels for Historical Study (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911), 3–14. ↩︎
  7. A. T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels for Students of the Life of Christ (New York, NY: George H. Doran, 1922), xvii–xx. ↩︎
  8. Bernard Orchard, Matthew, Luke, and Mark (Manchester, England: Koinonia, 1976). ↩︎
  9. Bernard Orchard, A Synopsis of the Four Gospels, in a New Translation (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1982), xv–xxv. ↩︎
  10. J. Dwight Pentecost, A Harmony of the Words and Works of Jesus Christ: From the New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1981), x–xiii. ↩︎
  11. Kurt Aland, ed., Synopsis of the Four Gospels: Greek-English Edition of the Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum (USA: United Bible Societies, 1985), 344–345. ↩︎
  12. Burton H. Throckmorton, Gospel Parallels: A Comparison of the Synoptic Gospels, 5th ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1992). ↩︎
  13. Steven L. Cox and Kendell H. Easley, Harmony of the Gospels (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007). ↩︎
  14. Yueh H. Goffin, ed., Rivers of Living Waters: A Visual Harmony of the Four Gospels, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Summit, NJ: Heavenly Bright, 2011), i–ix. ↩︎

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *