W.F. Albright wrote:
The four books in our New Testament which are called the "gospels" stand alone, in that there is no other material by which to judge them. This is not to say that they are a wholly new literary form, but rather that the material they discuss is not to be found paralleled anywhere else. It is true that during the centuries after the events recorded in the New Testament, the apocryphal gospels and various Gnostic compilations of sayings attributed to Jesus were composed. But an examination of the materials so collected, and a comparison of them with the canonical gospels of the New Testament, reveals that these later compositions were slanted to form a belief about the person and work of Jesus which finds no expression in the pages of the New Testament. (W.F. Albright and C.S. Mann. Matthew. The Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 1971, p. xix)
In this outline of the Bible, the four Gospels and the book of Acts have been designated as "the Lives"; this was done because together they form "history" of the New Testament and together they serve as the foundation upon which the remaining books of the New Testament, all letters, can stand. It is perhaps not an accident that together, the Gospels and Acts number five, thereby corresponding to the five books of the Law, the foundation of the Old Testament.
B. The Synoptic Problem
The reader of the New Testament may wonder at the fact that there
are four books, written by different authors, each of which describe
the life of Christ. When one considers the nature and importance
of parallelism in the Hebrew mind, perhaps the repetition is not
so surprising. Where a western writer would be concerned to present
a single, unified account, the Jewish mind wished for the stereoscopic
view afforded by parallelism; instead of relying on a single look
at the life of Christ, the modern reader is able to view his life
from more than one point, thereby getting a much clearer picture
than he or she otherwise might.
The careful reader of the gospels will notice that the similarities between the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke are much greater than is the case with the gospel of John. The result has been to refer to the first three gospels as "Synoptic". "Synoptic" means "to see together" and comes from two Greek words: sun, meaning "with" and optomai, meaning "to see".
The synoptic problem arises because the three Gospels present the same general view of the life and teaching of Jesus, raising the question: why are there so many similarities, even to the extent of using exactly the same words -- and why are there such striking differences.
The Synoptic Problem can therefore be summarized as follows:
1. Who wrote the Gospels?
2. Were the writers dependent upon each other, and if so, who depended on whom?
3. What other sources did the authors of the Gospels make use of, that they might have had in common?
It seems to be clear that Matthew incorporated almost the entire
gospel of Mark in his narrative, although he condensed the accounts
of the miracles, apparently for thematic reasons. In addition
to Mark, the author of Matthew inserted numerous sayings of Jesus,
apparently taken from a source that both he and Luke had in common.
This source, whether a written document, documents, or oral tradition,
is designated as "Q" by scholars. Q is an abbreviation
for Quelle, the German word for "source".
Therefore, the order of the Gospels, and their relationship to one another is as follows:
2. Matthew, making use of Mark and Q
3. Luke, making use of Mark, Q, and other sources.
4. John, which apparently did not make reference to the earlier written Gospels, and is not, therefore, one of the synoptic gospels.
The Book of Matthew
The title comes from the assumed author of the book.
II. Author and Setting
Matthew appears in all the lists of the twelve apostles (Matthew
10:3, Mark 3:18, Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13). In Matthew 10:3 he
is described as "the tax-collector". Matthew 9:9 describes
Matthew's call to be a disciple. In the parallel passages in Mark
and Luke he is referred to as Levi and Mark adds that he was "the
son of Alphaeus".
Papias, the early second century bishop of Hierapolis, Phrygia (in Turkey), wrote that Matthew "compiled the oracles" in Hebrew. This statement was taken by the early church as evidence that Matthew was the author of the Gospel which had been handed down as being "according to Matthew".
Most modern scholars think that Papias was not referring to Matthew's Gospel at all, but rather to a compilation of sayings of Jesus, or of Messianic proof texts from the Old Testament, which might have served the author of Matthew (and the other Gospel writers) as source materials.
The disciple, Matthew, remains the best guess for author of the book that bears his name.
B. Nature of the narrative
The Gospel of Matthew is not chronologically arranged history;
rather, we are given materials organized only loosely according
to time frame. More important to Matthew, in keeping with his
Jewish background, is the matter of theme. As is the case with
the Old Testament materials, other organizing principles often
are allowed to take precedence over the chronological. As Westerners,
this behavior can be somewhat confusing and disturbing; however,
the modern reader should be no more surprised by the culture shock
in this than he would be in traveling to the Middle East today.
What we assume to be normal, self-evident, and natural, is often
simply not the case with the biblical narratives. Much of the
problems modern critical scholars face in handling the materials
in the Bible derives from just this failure to reckon with different
cultural approaches to writing a narrative. See The Thematic Arrangement of Biblical Texts
for more information on this subject.
Matthew has two principle interests in his gospel: 1) the fulfillment of God's purposes in and through Jesus and 2) how this fulfillment will find expression in the Church that Jesus founded. Matthew is much more concerned with themes than with history.
It has been argued that the Gospel of Matthew was likely written
before AD 70, since Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem
in 24:2-23 and it would be odd that no mention of its fulfillment
would appear in the book had it been written after this date.
However, if the Gospel had been written after the destruction
of Jerusalem, that destruction would have been so well known,
it would have been unnecessary to point out that Jesus' words
had been fulfilled.
Matthew 27:8 and 28:15 would seem to indicate that some time had passed since the crucifixion, since both have the phrase "to this day".
Scholarly opinion seems to favor a date between AD 55 and 75 for the date of composition, with a period from 65-75 as seeming most probable.
It is unclear whether the book was written in or out of Palestine; considering the statement in Acts 8:1, regarding persecution and the scattering of the disciples from Jerusalem, and the subsequent persecutions and political instabilities leading up to the disaster of 66-73 AD, it is certainly possible that the Gospel was written somewhere other than Palestine.
III. An Outline of Matthew
I. The Preparation of the King 1:1-4:16
II. The Presentation of the Kingdom 4:17-16:12
III. Sermons 16:13-25:46
IV. The Sacrifice 26:1-27:66
V. The Resurrection 28:1-20
An old problem for expositors has been the contradictory genealogies
of Christ given in Matthew and Luke. Matthew traces Jesus' lineage
through forty-two generations from Abraham to Christ. Luke traces
it from Adam to Christ, for more than seventy generations.
It is unnecessary to examine in detail the genealogy between Adam and Abraham in Luke. That genealogy appears to derive from the Old Testament (1 Chr 1:1-4, 24-27; Gen 5:3-32;11:10-26). Matthew gives no listing from Adam to Abraham, so no problems there. Both Matthew and Luke list the people from Abraham to David, but again there is no problem: the two genealogies are nearly identical at that point. No, the problem that has confounded readers of the New Testament is found in the listing of names between David and Joseph. Matthew traces Joseph's line through Solomon and the successive kings of Judah. But Luke gives a completely different account, tracing Joseph's line through Nathan, Solomon's brother.
Clearly there is a difference between these two genealogies. They both start with David and they both end with Jesus, but the names in between are completely different. There aren't even the same number of names in the two lists. Matthew Henry, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, wrote:
The difference between the two evangelists in the genealogy of Christ, has been a stumbling block to infidels that cavil at the word...[Matthew Henry, An Exposition of the Old and New Testaments. Vol. V. Philadelphia: Towar & Hogan, 1828, p. 482]
Skeptics have looked at these differences and have arrived at
a simple solution to the problem: the genealogies are, in essence,
pious fiction. They are not really genealogies of Christ, but
have been composed, perhaps from other sources, so as to try to
legitimize Jesus' claim to Messiahship. [Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The
Gospel According to Luke I-IX. Anchor Bible. Garden City:
Doubleday, 1981, pp. 499-500; Michael Arnheim, Is Christianity
True? Buffalo:Prometheus, 1984, pp. 13-16] This explanation
has been generally accepted outside of evangelical circles, but
as an explanation, it does not satisfy those with a high view
of scriptural integrity. However, if the two lists are not mere
invention, then how else can they be reconciled? They don't even
agree on Joseph's father, a fact which should not have been much
of a mystery.
Since first proposed by Annius of Viterbo (c. AD 1490) [I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Greek Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978, p. 158], the most common explanation for the discrepancy, at least among evangelicals, has been to assume that Matthew's genealogy traces the lineage of Jesus through Joseph, while the one in Luke actually traces it through Mary. (An appendix in Robertson's Harmony of the Gospels lists eleven scholars, including Martin Luther, who accepted this explanation. [A.T. Robertson, A Harmony of the Gospels. New York: Harper and Row, 1950, pp. 261-262]) At first thought, this seems an admirable explanation. (Of more modern proponents of the theory note: Robert Gundry, A Survey of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970, pp. 118-119; John MacArthur, Jr. Matthew 1-7. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1985, p. 3; Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982, p. 316) After all, everyone has two parents and, therefore, two genealogies. Jesus would be no different. (see also Charles Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible. note on Luke 3:23 and Matt 1:1; C.I. Scofield, New Scofield Reference Bible, note on Luke 3:23; cf. note on Matt 1:1.) However, this explanation is nothing but wishful thinking, as any reading of the texts involved can demonstrate:
Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph... (Matthew 1:15b-16a)
He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli, the son of Matthat... (Luke 3:23b)
The attempted explanation by proponents of the view -- if they
attempt to explain it -- is that Luke 3:23b should be understood
as "he was the son -- so it was thought of Joseph -- the
son of Heli, the son of Matthat..." Heli is then Christ's
grandfather, and Mary is simply unmentioned. The Greek is nearly
stretched beyond what is possible; the reading is very unnatural
and forced. (Notice the rather quick dismissal of the position
by J. Gresham Machen. The Virgin Birth of Christ. New York:
Harper and Row, 1930. pp. 203-204; see also I. Howard Marshall,
It is clear from the text that both genealogies claim to be genealogies of Christ through Joseph. So, back to square one.
According to I. Howard Marshall (Marshall, 158; see also A.T. Robertson, 261.) Julius Africanus, as cited in Eusebius, Hist. eccl. 1.7, 2-15, utilized the custom of levirate marriage as described in Deut 25:5-6 (see also Gen 38:8- 10 and Ruth) to explain the apparent discrepancy in the genealogies. (See also Joseph A. Fitzmyer, 499-500. A.T. Robertson lists nine proponents of this view.) The proponents of this explanation argue that Matthan in Matt 1:15 (Joseph's grandfather) and Matthat in Luke 3:24 (his grandfather there, too) are one and the same man. It is then further supposed that Jacob, Joseph's "father" in Matthew died without children, and that his nephew, the son of Heli (Joseph's father in Luke) became his heir. Right.
A view akin to the above is that of Lord A. Hervey, which Marshall argues "has gained [the] most support in modern times" (Marshall, 158). Machen argues quite forcefully for Hervey's idea (Machen, 202-209,229-232; see also F.F. Bruce in The New Bible Dictionary, 458-459). Hervey argued that Matthew gives the legal line of descent from David, giving the legal heir of the throne in each case. Luke, on the other hand, gives David's actual, physical descendants. Marshall writes that this "solution depends upon conjecture, and there is no way of knowing whether the conjectures correspond to reality." (Marshall, 159) It should also be noted that the position is rather complicated, and requires an odd understanding of "begot".
I believe that such complicated methods of figuring out the relationship between the two genealogies are unnecessary. An extremely simple explanation is readily available, and it involves no strange customs or textual twists at all. Both genealogies are clearly through Joseph. I believe that one traces the lineage back through Joseph's father, and that the other traces back through Joseph's mother. However, the maternal genealogy drops the name of Joseph's mother, and instead skips back to her father. Which is which? I believe that the genealogy in Luke is through Joseph's father. I believe the one in Matthew is through Joseph's maternal grandfather.
That Matthew should skip Joseph's mother in the genealogical listing is not peculiar since it is readily apparent that Matthew skips a number of people in his genealogy. For instance, in Matt 1:8 he writes: "Joram the father of Uzziah". But when his statement is compared with 1 Chr 3:10-12, the reader sees that three people have been left out of Matthew's genealogy: Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah. Why did Matthew leave names out? So he could get the structural symmetry he desired. In Matt 1:17 he records:
Thus there were fourteen generations
in all from Abraham to David,
fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon,
and fourteen from the exile to Christ.
Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to suppose that Matthew
might leave out the name of Joseph's mother so he could get the
structural format he desired. Furthermore, this genealogy does
list four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, which lends,
I think, some support to the idea that this might be a woman's
I believe this explanation for the two genealogies has the advantage of simplicity, and that this explanation also has the textual support which the other common theories lack.
I. Birth of Jesus
The date of Jesus birth remains an open question. Certain limits
can be placed upon it, however. One definite is that he was not
born AD 0. AD 533, when Dionysius Exiguus fixed the date of the
birth of Christ in the 754th year of Rome, he made an error in
reckoning by several years.
It is known for certain that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5). Therefore, Jesus must have been born during his reign. It is also known that Herod died in 4BC.
Jesus must have been born at least two years before Herod's death, because Herod executed all the male children from two years of age and younger, placing Jesus birth within that time frame.
In Luke, it is learned that Quirinius was governor during the time of the census; since the census was taken every fourteenth year, it has been figured that the census occurred about 8 BC. This would match the evidence that would suggest Quirinius was joint ruler with Sentius Saturnius around 8 BC.
Therefore, a date around 7 or 8 BC seems likely.
II. Ministry of Jesus
John the Baptist began his public ministry in the fifteenth year
of Tiberias Caesar (Luke 3:1). Tiberias became co-ruler with his
father, Augustus Caesar AD 13, guaranteeing his succession to
the throne AD 14. If his rule is counted as beginning AD 14, then
John began his ministry around AD 28 or 29. Jesus public ministry
began shortly after John's, with Jesus' Baptism occurring, therefore,
also in AD 28 or 29. Luke 3:23 tells us that Jesus was "about
thirty years old"; This would make one think that he was
born then about 2 or 3 BC; however, "about" covers a
lot of territory, so perhaps a birth in 7 or 8 -- making Jesus
about thirty-five or thirty-six, would not be unreasonable.
According to John 2:20, Jesus' first Passover (during his public ministry) occurred in the 46th year of the remodeling of the temple. The renovation of Zerubabbel's temple began around 20 or 19 BC. This would give a date of AD 27 or 28. Therefore, a date of about AD 28 seems about right for the beginning of Jesus' public ministry.
Jesus' ministry apparently covered about three to four years, based on the number of Passover's recorded in his life:
1. Jesus' baptism to his first Passover (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9- 11; Luke 3:21-23 and John 2:13).
2. Second Passover (John 4:35 and John 5:1)
3. Third Passover (John 6:4)
4. Last Passover (John 11:55)
1. Astronomical observations indicate that Passover (14 of Nisan)
fell on Thursday-Friday AD 30 and 33. If Jesus public ministry
began AD 28, then a crucifixion date of AD 33 seems most likely,
when Jesus was about 39 or 40 years of age.
2. On what day of the week was Jesus crucified? Tradition places it on Friday, however Matthew 12:40 seems to create a problem with this tradition:
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.
It is likely, however, that this statement in Matthew should be
taken as an idiomatic expression, and should not be pressed toward
a literalistic interpretation. Based on Genesis 42:17, 1 Kings
20:29 and 2 Chronicles 10:5, it is apparent that any part of a
day was counted as a whole day in Jewish reckoning. Moreover,
the statements "after three days" and "on the third
day" seem to be referring to the same time period (Mark 8:31;
cf. Matthew 16:21 and Luke 9:22).
The other evidence, that the crucified men had to be removed from their crosses before the start of the Sabbath seem clearly to indicate that the crucifixion was occurring on a Friday (John 19:14, 31; cf. Matthew 27:62; Mark 15:42; and Luke 23:54).
III. Questions for Matthew
The questions for the book of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John have been combined into one set of questions located at the end of the introduction to the book of John. The questions should be answered after reading all four gospels.
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