The synoptic gospels are the first three canonical gospels —Matthew, Mark, and Luke — found in the New Testament. These gospels are called synoptic, from the Greek, συν, ‘‘syn’‘, together, and όπσις, ‘‘opsis’‘, seeing or appearance. These gospels often relate the same parables and accounts about Jesus, follow the same generally order of events, and use similar wording. The synoptic gospels are contrasted with the fourth canonical gospel by John. Traditionally the dating of the synoptic gospels is after the epistles of St Paul and before the gospel of St John.
The study of the hows and whys of the similarities and differences among each of these books and to other gospels is known as the synoptic problem.
In the fourth century, the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea first devised a method for theologians to find parallel texts in the three gospels that were “seen together with the same eyes.” In the fifth century, Augustine of Hippo proposed the view that Mark drew upon Matthew for his gospel and then Luke used both Matthew and Mark as his sources.
This view remained unchallenged until the late eighteenth century when scholars in the West began intensive study of the Scriptures, studies which developed into what is known as the ‘‘synoptic problem’‘. It was during these times that the term “synopsis” began to be used by scholars in relation to the three gospels. By the early nineteenth century scholars began to use the term “synoptic gospels” instead of the then generally used “first three gospels”.
Since then, various hypotheses developed by scholars in the West have put forwarded various sequences of authorship of the “synoptic gospels”. These hypotheses range over many sequences of events included hypothesizing earlier oral and written sources, without having come to any common resolution or agreement.