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 the good news of 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.